Prize Recruit — Isaiah Taylor

North Carolina A&T coach Allen Johnson now has prep 300H list leader Isaiah Taylor on campus along with twin brother Xzaviah, No. 8 on the ’23 hurdles list. (ASHER GREENE)

DURING HIS FROSH YEAR at Southwest DeKalb High in Decatur, Georgia, Isaiah Taylor got called into the Athletic Director’s office. “He asked me was there any pressure because of my dad or what he did?

“I just said, ‘No, I’ve just got to do the work.’”

At the time, the elder Taylor held a few school records, among them a 36.37 in the 300H. He went on to do a few things in the 400H after high school, winning an NCAA title and several USATF crowns. Oh, and Angelo Taylor also won two Olympic gold medals in the hurdles and another in the 4×4.

Isaiah and his twin, Xzaviah, didn’t grow up training for the barriers. Isaiah says that having a dad with gold medals wasn’t really a big thing. After a multi-sports childhood, the twins went out for track in “seventh or sixth grade,” and eventually gravitated to the hurdles. Dad, says Isaiah, “let us decide on our own.”

He explains, “I really started running them for real my freshman year of high school.” That year, the first of the pandemic, there weren’t many meets, but he got a chance to run 42.83 in the 300s, with a 55.22 for 400 flat. And that’s when his father started giving him advice on the sport.

Progress came fast, as it usually does for boys going through puberty. As a soph, he ran 14.61 for the highs, placing 2nd in the Georgia 5A Championships. He hit a best of 39.36 in the 300H, and ended up 10th in that event. Xzaviah, meanwhile, had run a faster 38.75 to place 4th in the state.

As a junior, Isaiah won the State title in the 300H and took 2nd in the highs. He saved his fastest performances for a summer meet, hitting PRs of 13.98 and 35.91. Finally, he was faster than his dad’s prep hurdle best. Xzaviah took 3rd in that summer race, clocking a PR 36.46.

Isaiah had serious goals for his senior season for the Panthers, hoping to finally make a dent on the national scene. At the State 4A finals, he won the hurdle double in 13.70 and a U.S.-leading 35.94, while Xzaviah placed 2nd in the 300H (37.78) and added a 3rd in the 400 (47.24). The twins both ran on the school’s winning 4×4 (3:10.55) while Xzaviah joined in on the winning 4×2 and runner-up 4×1.

Though Nationals beckoned next, foot pain screamed louder at Isaiah: “I had a stress fracture, so I had to shut it down, because if I would have kept running on it, it would have gotten worse. I was kind of upset I didn’t get to run.”

The summer was spent rehabbing and healing, as the twins prepared for their move to Greensboro to attend North Carolina A&T. In the prize-recruit game, the Aggies got a 2-for-1 deal.

Says Isaiah of his twin, “It’s a rivalry. You know, we always want to do better than one another. And at the same time, it’s like, OK, we both have to compete and do the best we can do together.”

He adds, “I always had the feeling we were going to go to the same college, but if there was a scenario where we had to separate, then that would be fine too. But we don’t have to, so yeah, I kind of enjoy college with my brother.”

In Greensboro, the two roommates are working with a pair of legends, head coach Allen Johnson and hurdle/sprint coach Terrence Trammell (another Southwest DeKalb alum). Johnson won the ’96 gold in the 110H, while Trammell earned two Olympic silvers in the same event, plus three World silvers and a World Indoor gold.

Says Johnson, “Isaiah has been coming to practice and putting in the work. There’s not much else to say at this point. He and his brother Xzaviah have great attitudes and they’re doing what it takes.”

That being said, the two are not carbon copy hurdlers. Isaiah is 5-11/171 (1.80/77) while Xzaviah is closer to 6-1 (1.85), but leaner at 165 (75). Isaiah says that over the years they have had to focus on different technical challenges. “Our form is not the same. I’m more of a sprinter, and he has more distance strength.”

This fall is the first that they have trained seriously for their events. They’re bringing to it an important lesson from their father. “I noticed in the past year or so that the workouts were getting a little tough,” says Isaiah. “Sometimes I’d get tired and the workouts were hard. But then, I’d always do pretty good in the meets. My dad was telling me that if I could do better in a workout or if I could compete in a workout the way I do in a race, then I’d be better with the track meet.”

One of the many ways the college competition scene will be a transition is that as Georgia preps, they worked for a season that was typically just two months long. Now they are looking at six months, with more possibly coming in the summer.

“I’m actually prepared for it and I’m excited for it,” says Isaiah. “My dad and coach Terrance always have told me that this fall training is going to actually base me up pretty good compared to what I usually have done. I’m kind of excited for the indoor and outdoor season coming up.”

Indoors, he sees himself doing the 60H along with the 400 and perhaps some 200s. “I want to do pretty good. This will be my first time running indoor, so I haven’t really been thinking about that. I’ve been thinking about outdoors, and my goal is to make it to NCAAs.”

Long term, a lot can play out, but Taylor aspires to a pro career in the family tradition. “I can see myself doing what my dad did.”