There aren’t many All-American swimmers that come from Honeyville, Utah, a small town with a population of around 2,000 that sits about 25 miles south of the Utah-Idaho border. But BYU senior All-American Jake Taylor, a native of the town, has been shattering expectations ever since he was a child.
How exactly does a kid from Honeyville, Utah, get involved with swimming?
“When I was around 8 years old, I was playing a lot of different sports and I realized that I really loved it,” Taylor said. “My parents would swim laps for exercise, so I decided to try it out, and I really started to enjoy it.”
Taylor started swimming with a developmental team locally, but they didn’t travel to many meets. Even at a young age, he started to travel himself, but soon became a big fish in a little pond.
“I’m very competitive, so I started to go to a lot of meets and I kind of outgrew them,” Taylor said. “People from the meets would tell me that I needed to go talk to Yolanda Bates in Logan, Utah. So we talked to Yolanda, and decided that it would be better for me start going to swim in Logan. Since the age of nine, we have been driving to practice everyday.”
Bates, now a coach at BYU, has been with Taylor since the beginning. The duo has formed a great bond and friendship through the years, and have had the opportunity to push each other and grow together.
"Jake and I have spent many years working together,” Bates said. “I have worked with many swimmers that I love and enjoy coaching, but I haven't had the opportunity to watch them compete through all those adolescent years like I've been able to with Jake. I’ve also had to grow as a coach. As Jake got faster, I had to get better.”
When Taylor started high school, he decided to attend Mountain Crest in Hyrum, where Bates would be his coach and help him grow as a swimmer. Waking up at 4:30 every morning to drive to the school, located about an hour from his home in Honeyville, wasn’t the best option for the Taylors. So when he turned 15, Taylor moved in with his sister, who lived in Cache Valley, so he could be closer to the school.
BYU head swim coach John Brooks, who was very involved in Taylor’s recruitment process, knew from the start the sky would be the limit, and Taylor would be able to accomplish great things at BYU.
“I knew when I saw him that he would be a great swimmer at BYU,” Brooks said. “Part of it was the way he swam, and the other part of it was his personality and toughness. Jake has a willingness to take on anybody on any given day. I could sense that Jake was going to be great, and that he would do everything in his power to make things happen.”
Taylor was being recruited by many different schools, but one thing that was important to him was having the ability to serve a mission and still have a spot upon returning. BYU made sense for him, not only because of the program, but because he would be able to serve and still have a spot on the team once he returned.
“When I went to BYU, I just felt great about it,” Taylor said. “Coaches from other schools wanted me to come, but would tell me if I went on a mission, they didn’t know if they could hold my scholarship when I got back. I heard that story over and over again from other coaches. But at BYU, I knew that scholarship would still be there for me.”
Taylor decided to attend BYU, and served a mission in El Salvador and Belize after his freshman year. After returning, he married his wife Amanda, who has been his biggest supporter ever since.
“She’s the one that gets me out of bed to go to practice,” Taylor said. “Since being married, I've had 100 percent attendance through my practices. My wife makes sure I go. She's very supportive of me in that aspect.”
“BYU swimming has been a huge blessing in our lives and I try to remember that,” Taylor’s wife Amanda said. “When it's time for practice and he's not out of bed, I get him out of bed. I try to encourage him in both swimming and in his school work as well.”
Taylor, who comes into his senior year holding the school record in the 100-yard freestyle, the 100 backstroke, the 200 backstroke and the 200 medley, has become a leader for the team. He’s become the type of person that’s an example of BYU and everything it represents.
“We have guys come up to us all the time at swim meets and tell us how great we are doing,” Taylor said. “People know us, and what we represent. We have been able to talk to Olympians like Matt Grevers and Ryan Murphy, who come up to us and ask us about the church and the honor code. It’s a great missionary opportunity for us.”
His coaches acknowledge all of the changes he has made, and the special type of person that Taylor has become, while still maintaining who he is as an individual.
“The very essence of the nine-year-old Jake, is still the same as the 23-year-old Jake,” Bates said. “He is still very competitive and very confident. He still wants to be the best. He still likes to be praised for his efforts. He still likes to play other sports and play well and he still likes to work hard. If anything, he is more committed and has higher goals. He is more in tune with his body, and he is much better at recognizing the little things that will help him achieve those goals.”
“Jake is just a great kid,” Brooks said. “He’s such a good leader. He doesn’t like to lose, and that’s what it takes at this level.”
Through all of the challenges he has overcome, Taylor has become an incredible swimmer, earning All-American status last season in the 100 and 200 backstroke. He went to the NCAA tournament in 2015 and placed fourth in the 100 and 200 backstroke. The list of athletic accomplishments for the kid from Honeyville seems endless. But for Taylor, it isn’t all about the records and times. He has worked hard to not only accomplish his athletic goals, but to become a person that friends, family, coaches and teammates look up to as well.
“Jake is unique,” Bates said. “His circumstances contribute to his individuality, and witnessing his success through those circumstances means more to me because of some of the challenges he’s had to overcome. He’s a living example of the old adage, hard work equals success.”
“I just want to be remembered as a good person and good friend,” Taylor said. “I want to be remembered as someone who was successful given his circumstances. We don’t get all of the perks that some of the big swimming schools get. For me to be here and to be able to do well just proves to my teammates that they can do well, and that they can be All-Americans.”