Even though he had made up his mind five days before signing an official letter of intent, the relief on Donovan Taylor’s face was easy to see.
The 17-year-old swimmer made it official last Wednesday evening during a reception at La Place Rendez-Vous— attended by family, friends, and teammates from the Fort Frances Aquanauts—that come next fall, Taylor will be competing in the NCAA Division I ranks as a member of the Indiana Hoosiers.
“It has been a long experience, and a long ride, but it has been really exciting,” he smiled.
“I have some friends that are still contemplating where they are going to go [to school] next year, but I have that already done and over with, which is really nice.
“But that’s just one step, and now the hard work really is going to begin,” Taylor conceded.
The recruiting process began in earnest last December at the annual Prairie Winter Invitational meet in Winnipeg, where Tom Hainey, head coach of the Manta Swim Club, referred Taylor to Rick Paine, a recruiting director for American College Connection.
“Rick has a lot of connections with the universities, and that certainly made things a lot easier with him helping out,” Taylor explained.
“Instead of me just telling people what I’m able to do, Rick will help to take care of those types of things and set up times for me to talk with the schools, which was a big help.”
A total of 61 schools, including a couple in Canada, expressed interest in Taylor in a variety of different ways, whether through letters in the mail or by calling him personally.
“There were a lot of smaller universities that offered me a full-blown scholarship, which could have been a choice for me,” Taylor said.
“But for me, it’s not so much about the money or the glory; it’s about getting there and what you can do further on from that,” he stressed.
“I would rather be challenged than to be put on that pedestal.”
Over the last couple of months, Taylor made official visits (meaning they were paid for by the schools) to the universities of Denver, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, and Minnesota.
While Taylor was impressed by what each of the schools offered, it was his visit to the Indiana campus in Bloomington in mid-September that blew him away.
“They were the ones that impressed me most, both with how they do things in the pool and academically,” he recalled.
“The facilities that are there, you can’t even fathom the size of it. It’s close two full lengths of our football field at Fort High, and it’s filled with every machine or new-age technology you can need for your workout.
“The biggest thing for me, though, was the people that are there as I was able to connect with everyone right away, and it felt right away that I was at home there,” Taylor added.
Another aspect of the Hoosiers’ program, which competes in the Big Ten conference, that impressed Taylor was the approach the coaches take to swimming.
“I loved meeting with the head coach [Ray Looze] as he just gets right to the point,” Taylor said.
“He basically said as soon as I met him that ‘Your breaststroke sucks, this is where you are going wrong, and here’s how we would go about fixing it.’
“But what really impressed me was just how he takes his swimming, and the fact that he will also talk to your coaches and best see how they can best accommodate you into their team.”
After thinking things over after visiting the other schools he had official visits with, Taylor made the decision to attend Indiana—and called Hoosiers’ assistant coach Donny Brush to let him know of his choice.
“I was trying to figure out the right way to tell him, really, as I was talking to him over the phone, and I must have been kind of vague about it because I think he was getting prepared for me letting him down,” Taylor recalled.
“At the end of my speech, I said something along the lines of that ‘I want to be an Indiana Hoosier.’ And as soon I said that, he was like almost hysterical and screaming.
“That reaction is something I’ll never forget, and that feeling is something I’m going to remember forever.”
For now, Taylor, who will be heading to Bloomington next August, is unsure exactly which disciplines he’ll be competing in for the Hoosiers. But he does have a strong idea on how things will shape up.
“I can guarantee you that I won’t be doing any 200m breaststrokes,” he laughed.
“It can all change depending on how things go,” he admitted. “But at this point, I think I would probably be doing the 200m I.M. and the 200m butterfly.”
Away from the pool, Taylor will be busy during his four years on campus as he’ll be majoring in the veterinary medicine-biology program.
“Up here in Northwestern Ontario, there’s a shortage right now in that field, especially with large animals,” Taylor noted, referring to why he chose that program.
“I love animals myself, as I’ve been around horses pretty much my entire life, and I would have no problem in coming back up here to work in that career.”
When applying for that program, though, Taylor came across something that really brought to light the passion of the biggest rivals to the Hoosiers in their in-state competitors at Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, Ind.
“If you take the program that I’m taking, you can’t even get into the program at Purdue,” he noted.
“I think that’s enough proof right there that both of those schools don’t like each other,” he laughed.
In addition to choosing his college, Taylor also found out recently that he was selected to attend training camps with Team Ontario this winter, with an opportunity to represent Team Ontario at the 2013 Canada Games in Sherbrooke, Que.
“I’ll be competing during those camps against Cameron Kingston, who is an incredible swimmer on his own terms, for a spot in the 200m I.M. event,” Taylor said.
“I can’t beat round the bush, though,” he stressed. “I have to beat Cameron if I want to make the team, and I’m hoping to get a time of two minutes or under to secure that spot.”
Prior to that, however, Taylor will be out on the road next weekend to participate in the Canada Cup event in Etobicoke, which will be followed by the Prairie Winter Invitational during the first weekend of December.
Meanwhile, as Taylor prepares to make the next big step in his swimming career, he was quick to thank a number of people who have helped him reach this point.
“I need to thank all of my friends, my family, and all of my teammates who have really helped to pushed me this far,” he remarked.
“My teachers at school have been really supportive of what I’m doing, even though I’ve been out of town a lot.
“And there have been a lot of people in town who have just come up to me and have been telling me to keep it up, which has been really nice,” he added.