Unfortunately, the best one-on-one matchup in the Redwood Empire never materialized this season. It couldn’t have, because there was no way for Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, the cornerback, to cover Chris-Taylor Yamanoha, the wide receiver.
What a battle it would have been.
The Rancho Cotate senior was undoubtedly the top receiver in the area in 2015. But he was every bit as good on the other side of the ball. In fact, his future may be as a defensive back, and that’s where he is being honored today — as the Large School Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s a shutdown corner but people didn’t throw the ball at him,” Rancho coach Ed Conroy said of Taylor-Yamanoha. “He led the team in interceptions, but it was foolish to throw at him because he’d pick it off. He was huge on defense for us because he allowed us to shade teams the other way.”
Taylor-Yamanoha wound up with seven interceptions, which is a bit absurd when you consider how infrequently opposing quarterbacks tested him.
“He’s the guy in this county who affected the game more than anybody else, because he could go for a touchdown at any time,” Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “We were scared to death of Taylor-Yamanoha, because he can do so much with the ball.”
Taylor-Yamanoha’s offensive production was stellar: 82 catches for 1,473 yards and 23 touchdowns. He and Cougars quarterback Gunner Mefferd formed a sometimes-unstoppable combination. And it wasn’t like Taylor-Yamanoha was feasting on lesser competition. His best game (13 receptions, 239 yards, 3 touchdowns) came in a playoff loss to Analy, the Sonoma County League champion. His second-best game (13 catches, 179 yards, 3 touchdowns) was in a loss to Newman, the North Bay League champion.
Week after week, the Rancho Cotate coaches asked Taylor-Yamanoha to cover the opponent’s top receiver, wherever that kid lined up.
“It was really cool, knowing they put their trust in me to do that, that they thought I could shut anyone down,” Taylor-Yamanoha said. “During the offseason I was working with kids from all over the country. It gave me more confidence, that if I get to go against anyone I will not back down or be scared.”
As Conroy suggested, the Cougars not only assigned Taylor-Yamanoha to the No. 1 receiving target, they tended to rotate their safeties to the other side of the field, figuring CTY would keep things locked down on his side.
And every once in a while, the opposing quarterback would tempt fate. Maybe it was just the habit of looking for his top receiver. Maybe they mistakenly thought Taylor-Yamanoha was getting gassed from playing both ways.
“My dad (Cougars assistant coach Rudy Yamanoha) said he notices sometimes I look like I’m tired on defense,” Taylor-Yamanoha revealed. “So they go after me, and that’s when I get my picks. He asked me, ‘Do you do that on purpose?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m just coming off of offense and maybe I’m moving a little slower.’ ”
Through all of the accolades and big plays, Taylor-Yamanoha remained low-key, even-keeled and quiet to the point of humility. “He gets fired up inside, but he’ll never express that,” Conroy said. “He’ll get an interception or make a nice catch, and he’ll get a little excited. Then he’ll come back to the bench. He might have just scored the winning touchdown, and it’s, OK, get a drink of water and let’s go. Sometimes you’re more excited for him than he is.”