“There was a big following in our town,” Mehlhaff told Seahawks.NET when asked if the city he grew up in rallied around the high school football team. “Aberdeen has about 27,000 people in it and actually we had about 5,000 at the big games and we had a great year my senior year and we had a good following.
“Coming from a small town like that, everyone pays attention and it’s important to them. People always give me crap for being from South Dakota and they don’t think the football is very good there, but people pay attention to it and they like following it a lot.”
Like most kickers, Mehlhaff played soccer as a child, but he focused on other sports in high school.
“In high school I played four sports,” Mehlhaff recalled. “I played hockey, ran track and I played baseball and football so I stayed real busy. I wanted to play basketball and I did that until my freshman year and then I was starting for our varsity hockey team as a freshman so I had to make a decision between that and basketball and I just decided to drop basketball.
“I stayed busy between all those sports with working out, so it was a crazy four years of high school.”
Things would eventually get even crazier for the athletically gifted kicker. He did a little bit of everything for Aberdeen Central High’s football team – quarterbacking the offense while also holding down the punting and kicking duties as well as being the main return man.
“I played quarterback and that’s what I actually wanted to do,” Mehlhaff said. “I wanted to go to college and play quarterback and play baseball. That was my original intent.”
But it was a chance invite to a big kicking competition that turned the tide and determined Melhaff’s fate in becoming one of the best kickers in the country.
“I received all-state honors as a sophomore and as a junior and then I received an invitation to go out to Las Vegas for Chris Sailer’s national kicking competition for high school kids,” Mehlhaff said. “I actually just went out there for the heck of it. I knew I was a good kicker for my area, but I knew those kids from California and Texas, that they’d blow me out of the water, so I just went out to compare myself to them. I ended up winning the kickoff portion of it. I was hitting some bombs and I kicked my field goals really well. I made Chris’ top 12 and stuff started falling into place.
“I started hearing from all these coaches from division one schools where they were coming up to me and telling me ‘wow, we’re impressed and we’ll be giving you a call’ and from that point on I was just like ‘Wow, I want to do this at the next level’.”
Mehlhaff signed with Wisconsin over offers from South Carolina and Minnesota and, as a true freshman, he was allowed to be the kickoff specialist while senior Mike Allen was allowed to be the place kicker.
“I was realistic with myself because Mike was already here and he was an established kicker,” Mehlhaff said. “I didn’t get upset that I had to wait, I just made the best of my opportunity to impress the coaches and to be the best kickoff guy I could be.
“Kicking off has always been a strength of mine. I feel natural running up to the ball and getting after it. It’s not just the touchback part, it’s the hang-time too and that’s something I pride myself on. I was down in Arizona last weekend working with Gary Zauner. He was a special teams coach in the NFL for 15 years and now he’s doing one-on-one work with some of the draft-eligible guys.
“I hit a ball down there one time and he said ‘In all my years of coaching, I’ve never seen a guy hit a 4.5-second hang time on a kickoff.’ Hearing something like that from a guy who’s been around for a long time that was special. All of the top guys are pretty much the same, a field goal here or a field goal there is the difference, so it really comes down to who can put it in the end zone.”
After Allen ran out of eligibility, Mehlhaff jumped at the chance to be the kicker for the Badgers and he never looked back.
“As a sophomore I just wanted to establish myself as a good solid kicker and I did that and then my junior year my goal was to be All-Big 10,” Mehlhaff said. “Then, in my senior year I wanted to be considered one of the top guys, if not the top guy, in the country.
“That’s the attitude I had about and the mindset I went in with. I was realistic with myself when I came in and that helped me reach all of those goals.”
Mehlhaff ended his career second on pretty much every Wisconsin kicking list, finishing with 295 points, 51 field goals made and he made 21 in 2007. He was named Second Team All-Big 10 as a junior in 2006, was named First Team All-Big 10 and a First Team All-American as a senior. He also received the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker.
“We had so many big games last year it’s tough to just come up with one memory, but the game that really stands out was Senior Day when we played Michigan at home,” Mehlhaff said. “That was a big game for myself. I didn’t have any last-second, game-winning field goals or anything like that this year that really jump out in my mind, but that Michigan game will always stick out in my mind because the Michigans and Ohio States are always big games. You have a little added incentive to win those and I had a big day.
“That’s a game I will always remember because of that and because it was Senior Day. To go out like that is always special.”
Teams from around the NFL have also stood up and taken notice, especially after the gifted kicker put up 225 pounds 13 times on the bench press at the combine.
“I was the only kicker who did it,” Mehlhaff said with a laugh. “I had gotten 15 a couple of weeks before, so I was hoping for 16, but 13 was what I got. It doesn’t really show how good of a kicker you are and it doesn’t really affect much in leg strength, but it shows your work ethic and that you are a part of the team because you can get in the weight room with the other guys.”
Melhaff, who is a lefty, is hoping the weather clears up enough for him to put on a show for a couple of teams that have shown an interest in his skills.
“What I’ve heard recently is that things will pick up over the next couple of weeks,” Mehlhaff said. “Atlanta still wants to work me out and Baltimore and Cincinnati have told me they want to come up.
“At times teams that aren’t excited about you come up and work you out and then teams that are really excited about you don’t even show any interest so it’s the little games they play, but you’ll just never know until it comes to draft day.
“We haven’t set up times because they want to make sure snow is gone for sure. We were planning on doing it at the end of March, but they wanted me to do it outside because they don’t want to see banging it off the roof.”
Taylor Mehlhaff comes from a small town, but he's ready for the big time.
Seahawks.NET Draft Editor
Scott Eklund also writes for Dawgman.com. You can reach Scott here.