I was born in 1986, so I have no memory of Jeff Womack. For that matter, I can’t say I witnessed live any of the first half of Warren County sports history. My first vivid memories of Pioneer sports came in the mid 90s when I family friend started taking me to Charlie Dalton Gym for basketball games.
I watched intently, hoping any loose ball would find its way to Lamont Blevins so he could fly to the rim and jam one home. Kenny Smith was an early hero – a big, bulking post who could do it all on the court. I started studying Warren County sports from there, always gravitating to the best athletes.
Now over two decades later, I have seen a lot of the best players in the second half of Pioneer sports history. In fact, I’ve covered a decade of it up close, meeting (and sometimes deciding who was) the best of the best.
I can say without question, CJ Taylor is the best Pioneer I’ve seen so far.
Way back in the early 1990s, I attended a pitching camp ran by Gooby Martin and Jamie “Cat” Walker. I’m well versed in their accomplishments after leaving Warren County – and some of the great things they did as Pioneers as well.
I was teammates with Reese Bishop and Randal Harrell in the early 2000s. Both were sensational basketball players, 1,000-point scorers and helped lead some Pioneers to success on the hardwood. I also remember the zip of a Colby Killian fastball and the sound it made when it crashed into the mitt at Patrick Ramsey Field.
When I was in college, I came back home to see Josh Paz and his crew play at Nunley Stadium. It was great to watch Kyle Mullican, Nick Cantrell, Chase Officer and all the other great players help the Pioneers stop being a statewide laughingstock in football.
As soon as I came back to cover sports in 2010, I was greeted by Cody Robinson and Taylor Bain dominating opponents. Robinson was in the midst of getting serious offers from major colleges and Bain was busy bringing home state medals (and I stress, medals – he qualified for state multiple times).
That’s not to mention Caleb Northcutt, the right answer to a question a lot of Pioneer fans are going to get wrong over the next decade. People are going to get asked “who are the top two rushers in Pioneer history?” and naturally respond “Womack and CJ,” but it’s actually Jeff Womack and Northcutt. Along with topping 3,100 rushing yards in his career, Northcutt picked up his bat and glove as a senior and was all-district despite not playing baseball for three years.
Naturally, I’m one of many who marveled at K’rojhn Calbert’s athleticism. If people asked me who the best natural athlete I’ve covered, then Calbert – a 6-foot-6, 300-plus pound behemoth who probably runs a 40 faster than 90 percent of the current Pioneer football team – would be the easy answer.
But if the question is who is the best Pioneer, I’m sticking with CJ.
He has a combination of what all the people I just mentioned only had one of for the most part. Many of them had individual accomplishments or were part of surprising team success, but rarely did they have both. And certainly, to no fault of their own, did they have individual accomplishments and great team success in a pair of sports.
There is a good chance no Warren County athlete is ever going to have a calendar year like CJ Taylor is currently enjoying. Back in February, he hit one of the biggest shots in Warren County basketball history. His buzzer-beating 3 in the District 6AAA finals was an instant classic, giving the Pioneers their first district title in 43 years and clinching Taylor as the district tournament MVP.
As an encore, he just became the most decorated Pioneer football player in program history. He’s the first Mr. Football from Warren County, became the third member of the 3,000-yard club and helped end a 30-year streak of losing seasons.
Within two weeks of ending his prestigious football career, he notched his 1,000th point at Charlie Dalton Gym. It came on the same night he made his pledge to attend Vanderbilt University next season.
When is the next time Warren County is going to have an athlete top two historic milestones (becoming the first-ever 3,000/1,000 Pioneer of all time), win region/district player of the year in two different sports and lead his team to unprecedented success (remember, Taylor wasn’t the alive the last time the Pioneers had a winning football season or claimed a basketball championship)? It just don’t see it happening any time soon.
It’s why Pioneer Nation should enjoy these next five months. We’re not going to see another CJ Taylor anytime soon, but at least we get to see him represent Warren County for a few more months.