KJ Taylor had quite the impact on his football teammates at Capital High School. He left a lasting impression on most, with one of them calling Taylor “the perfect teammate.’’
Taylor, 18, who was shot and killed on Charleston’s West Side Wednesday night, was a standout wide receiver for the Cougars with a penchant for making timely big plays. He also had a knack for getting along famously with his friends and teammates.
“I’ve known him since I was about 5,’’ said Kerion Martin, a 2020 Capital graduate who now plays football at Marshall. “He was always the special one out of all of us. He was always smiling and joking — the perfect teammate. He let you know when you did something wrong — even though he didn’t talk too much — and he also let you know when you did good.
“We just loved him. Everybody loved KJ. I hate to see this. He hadn’t even graduated yet. He was really special, he was.’’
Taylor didn’t play football at Capital last fall for his senior year. Fearing that COVID-19 might wipe out the season entirely in West Virginia, he moved to Arizona to stay with relatives and played at Chandler High School. Capital wound up playing just three games before being shut down by the virus. Taylor came back to the Kanawha Valley, Martin said, because he wanted to finish up his final school year at Capital.
Two plays stand out in Taylor’s three years with the Cougars, the first coming as a mere freshman in 2017 when he returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown in a Class AAA playoff quarterfinal game at University. That propelled the Cougars to a 48-24 victory and sent them into the playoff semifinals for a fifth straight year.
The second came the following year in Capital’s opener, a landmark 28-21 win at Kentucky power Johnson Central. Late in a tie game, Taylor caught a 56-yard pass from Kerry Martin Jr. that put the ball on the Eagles’ 17-yard-line. On the next play, Kalai Clark bulled his way into the end zone for the tie-breaking touchdown with 1:29 left.
As a junior, Taylor was selected to the All-Mountain State Athletic Conference first team as he caught 37 passes for 538 yards and four TDs. He also played two seasons of varsity basketball at Capital.
But even with all his exploits on the football field, Taylor is perhaps most remembered for his influence on his friends and teammates.
“I started playing basketball with him my second-grade year,’’ said former Cougars receiver Chance Knox, who now plays at VMI. “I’ve got two sisters, but I never had a brother, and I always considered my teammates to be my brothers. He was one of those to me.
“He was one of those people that when he walked in a room, he put smiles on people’s faces. He could just light up somebody’s day for them. I always knew that about him. Wow, he was a special young man. When he came in as a freshman, I knew he was going to be special and I took him under my wing and tried to help him out any way I could. But the special part is that he taught me a lot of things.’’
Tay Calloway, a former Capital running back, played the 2019 season with Taylor, but their relationship went back many years prior. Calloway said they “grew up together’’ and started playing Little League football together when Calloway was about 9.
“We were really like family,’’ said Calloway, who joins the Marshall football program this fall. “He was always picking with you, no matter what.’’
Calloway echoed the sentiments of other players who said that Taylor was a student of the game and was almost never caught off guard by something new, even if it was new to the older players.
“You tried to get him to do something you think he didn’t know,’’ Calloway said, “and he already knows what you’re talking about — and a couple more things that even you didn’t know about. So you could say something to him, but you could never really tell him anything that he didn’t know.’’
Capital coach Jon Carpenter could not be reached for comment.