Cool under pressure: St. Francis senior Jake Taylor composed on court, off of it

St. Francis senior Jake Taylor last summer helped save a life during his lifeguard shift. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE — Jake Taylor, a senior forward for the St. Francis boys’ basketball team, hardly ever cracks under pressure.

He calmly surveys each situation, falls back on hours of practice and almost always makes the smart play to help his team win.

The same could be said of Taylor off the court.

Taylor, a certified lifeguard, kept his cool while saving a boy’s life last summer at Seabright State Beach in Santa Cruz.

Taylor and a fellow lifeguard resuscitated a child that had been accidentally buried by a collapsing sand tunnel by performing CPR.

Taylor said he and his coworker had little time to react, as the boy, who had been pulled from under the sand by beachgoers, was unconscious and without a pulse when they arrived on the scene. But the two kept calm, fell back on their hours of training and revived the boy before paramedics arrived.

“You take all that stuff for granted when you’re learning all the safety procedures,” Taylor said. “They teach you these things, and you don’t really expect to ever actually experience that…It was a wild experience.”

Taylor said he has yet to reunite with the boy or his family, but said he received a Christmas card from the family in December. The boy, according to the card, is 100 percent physically healthy.

“It was crazy,” Taylor said. “I was so shocked to see that…from my experience, to see him, and looking at the dad, all their faces were just in a panic. Just to see him alive and smiling was such a trip.”

Taylor said he was able to stay calm in the situation because of his near decade-long training as a junior lifeguard at Manresa State Beach, his subsequent lifeguard certification at Huntington State Beach in Southern California two years ago and a seasonal refresher course in CPR.

“It was basically all muscle memory,” Taylor said.

St. Francis coach Ed Kelly said he was surprised to hear the harrowing rescue story, but was not surprised by Taylor’s actions. The process of becoming a certified lifeguard in Santa Cruz County is not an easy one, and Taylor’s can-do, tranquil personality lends itself to moments of distress.

“He’s a calm, composed kid,” Kelly said. “I’m not surprised that when the moment called for it he stepped up.”

And Taylor has done the same for the Sharks this winter.

Graduation stripped St. Francis of starting forwards Jason Gallo and Chase Watkins — the program’s top two all-time scorers whom led the team to league, section and regional titles in 2017 — but Taylor has done his best to fill their massive shoes.

The 6-foot-1 Taylor does not have the same size as the now-graduated 6-foot-4 forwards, and his shooting touch is not comparable either. But he plays with energy, he uses his strength in the paint and he makes the smart play more than not, never overstepping his role in the Sharks’ free-flowing offense.

“He always makes plays when he needs to make plays,” said St. Francis senior point guard E.J. Kelly. “My favorite part about him is he’s such a good cutter. Whenever you’re stuck, or whenever you’re getting double teamed, you always know Jake’s going to be running to the basket for a bucket… He plays to his strengths.”

Taylor last season saw limited action behind Gallo and Watkins, but was thrusted into the starting lineup this year with them gone. E.J. Kelly, who replaced a league M.V.P. in Sandor Rene Rodriguez in the starting lineup last winter, knows how hard that transition can be on a player, but said Taylor has eased into his new role with the way he prepares and studies for his assignments.

“He’s such a student of whatever he does, and I feel like that’s what helps him not be panicked in certain situations,” E.J. Kelly said. “He’s like that in the classroom, on the basketball court, pretty much wherever he goes. He’s always locked in, and he always feels comfortable.”

In his first action of the season, Taylor put up 11 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and an assist, and he’s only gotten better as the year has progressed. He has scored in double figures in seven games, and leads the team in rebounds.

“He’s a strong, athletic kid who plays really, really hard,” coach Kelly said. “Some of the basketball stuff, he’s still figuring out, but his effort is really high up on the charts. He gets a lot done for us this year.”

And he’s helped the Sharks compete in their new league. St. Francis moved over from the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League to the Pacific Coast Athletic League over the summer, and the boys’ basketball team was placed in the new league’s second-toughest division, the Mission.

So far, St. Francis has not missed a beat, jumping out to an 11-2 start to the season and scoring a 43-35 win over Seaside to open league action. 

Taylor’s strong and controlled play in the interior has without a doubt been a factor in team’s  success.

“Being put on the starting lineup has given me a lot of opportunities to show myself and prove myself on this team,” Taylor said.

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