In the history of South Carolina football, you’d be hard pressed to find a defensive player who enjoyed a better debut than defensive end Devin Taylor last year at N.C. State.
The soft-spoken giant from Beaufort set up the lone touchdown in the Gamecocks’ 7-3 win by forcing a fumble and also blocked a punt. Those plays came on the first two series of Taylor’s career.
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But after becoming a situational player the second half of the season, Taylor aims to both start and finish 2010 strong. If he does so, don’t expect the 6-foot-7, 249-pounder to crow about it.
After all, this is a player whom teammates nicknamed “Don’t Say Nothin’” when he arrived on campus because of his economy with the spoken word.
“I really didn’t say much to anybody or any of the coaches,” Taylor said recently.
Taylor has become a little more vocal since taking a speech class last year. Still, he’s never going to remind anybody of USC tailback Jarvis Giles or cornerback Chris Culliver, both of whom are equipped with the gift of gab.
Taylor’s coaches are not concerned whether he speaks up in the locker room or huddle. With Taylor’s once-lanky frame filling out and no one to take reps from him, coaches believe Taylor can consistently make the type of impact he flashed a year ago in Raleigh.
“He’s got a year behind him playing in the SEC. Hopefully, he’ll have a productive year,” defensive line coach Brad Lawing said. “A lot of time those ends, that position lends itself to more productivity than the tackle position. I expect Devin to play well.”
Starting in place of the suspended Clifton Geathers, Taylor stunned the Wolfpack with the two momentum-changing plays early in the game and later forced another fumble. He finished with six tackles and led USC with three tackles for loss.
But after Geathers reclaimed his starting spot, Taylor saw his snaps decrease, except for the occasional play when USC wanted a pass-rush specialist in the game. After his stirring showing at N.C. State, Taylor managed one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss the rest of the season.
“I want to push myself even more to have an even better season that last year,” Taylor said. “I guess I’d say last year was sort of like a steppingstone and this year I want to do more every game.”
With Geathers having left early for the NFL, Taylor has the end spot opposite senior Cliff Matthews to himself. With Taylor’s increased bulk and strength, Lawing expects him to win more of those one-on-one battles in the trenches.
“Because he’s so tall, as he gets stronger he’s going to become a better football player,” Lawing said. “Devin’s made great strides from the first year he was here.”
That development includes baby steps in the area of verbal expression. Taylor said he earned a B-plus in his speech class, which included an explanatory speech he did on fishing.
That Taylor received a good grade came as no surprise to Lawing. Taylor, a technology support and training management major, is a cerebral — if not vocal — player, according to Lawing.
“That’s who Devin is. He’s a lot more vocal now than he’s ever been, believe it or not,” Lawing said. “He’s a unique individual — very intelligent.”
And a player who continues to say (next to) nothing.
“I’m still a lead-by-example person,” he said.
If that example includes more games like last year’s opener, the Gamecocks will gladly take it.