Jaylen Taggart

After playing on the line during his entire time at Hamilton, Jaylen Taggart (74) will join the Montana Tech football team as a tight end next year. He has one career reception, a touchdown, during his high school career.

VINCE RAGGIO, special to the Missoulian

The complexity of football plays — and the intricacies in their names — grows in relation to the experience of the players executing them.

But for the Hamilton Broncs this past season, senior night felt like the perfect opportunity to bust out an oft-practiced but never utilized play as simply named as possible.

It was time to unleash "Jaylen."

Though he'll suit up as a pass-catching tight end for Montana Tech this fall (and is playing defensive end at the Montana-North Dakota Badlands Bowl this week), the trick pass play last October marked the only reception of Jaylen Taggart's football career. It ended in a Broncs touchdown because nobody outside of Hamilton's huddle expected the team's fourth-year starting offensive lineman to end up with the ball in his hands.

Since he started playing peewee football in the Bitterroot Valley as a middle schooler, Taggart has always been relegated to the work of a lineman. Now a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, even then he blew by the youth league's weight limits for ball carriers.

He blocked for his speedy teammates, lining up inches across from the opposition before ramming into the defense in short bursts to keep tacklers off the right path.

Even when he reached high school, his combination of size and strength left him few other options. And due to injuries in the 2013 preseason, Taggart found himself in reach of a starting bid for the team's left tackle spot.

The most important blocking position on the line, the left tackle is charged with stopping the defense's top pass rusher. In front of a right-handed quarterback, Taggart was the protector of the fabled blind side.

And he had to do it against boys two or three years his senior.

"It was intimidating," Taggart remembered. "If you're a freshman, you're going against seniors that have three years more experience than you do."

But Taggart shined, locking down his spot in the Broncs' lineup for years to come. When head coach Bryce Carver joined the Hamilton staff before Taggart's sophomore season and rose to offensive coordinator last year, he realized the lineman's potential.

And started running the offense through Taggart's left side.

"We ran a lot of stuff his way just because we trusted him," said Carver, a former Montana Griz. "A lot of our stuff went that way just because he was so strong."

The Broncs' benefited from Taggart's success, but it also locked him into the role on the offense line. It's half the reason he's headed to Butte for his college ball this fall. When Tech began recruiting him, Taggart was drawn to the Orediggers' vision for him as a tight end, the hybrid blocker and receiver.

"I'd always wanted to do that in high school but never could because I was one of the most experienced linemen," he explained.

It's something the Hamilton coaching staff understood, too. So they added a play to the offensive repertoire, one that pulled Taggart out of obscurity in the trenches.

Taggart just wasn't sure it would ever go live.

Against Whitefish, the Broncs galloped down to the 6-yard line in sight of the end zone. Then came the play call.

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Jaylen.

Hamilton sent four receivers wide, three on the right side as a diversion, and Taggart dropped into his stance on the edge of the offensive line. They'd practiced the play just that week, but the results were mixed. Unaccustomed to catching passes, Taggart failed to do so on most attempts.

"I got really nervous and started shaking," he recalled.

With quarterback Carson Rostad under center, Taggart let his rusher by with the hike of the ball. The QB planted his foot and lofted a pass over the defensive end's head to where Taggart sat waiting, all alone behind the line of scrimmage on the left side.

A few steps later he was in the end zone and Hamilton was on its way to a 33-20 victory that cemented the Broncs' spot in the Class A playoffs.

Asked to assess his lineman's route-running ability, coach Carver chuckled.

"We were all just glad he caught it," Carver said.

But don't worry; there's plenty of time to work on Taggart's hands. The Bronc will play in his last high school game this Saturday, the Badlands Bowl, which kicks off at 6 p.m. in Miles City.

He's got all summer to study under Carver, a Griz receiver from 2009-12, before testing out his skills with Montana Tech.

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