South Carolina defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth didn’t get to enjoy a storybook start to his career.
True, he played in eight games as a freshman and nine, with five starts, as a sophomore. But he also missed some time late in the first year, and pectoral injuries cost him his spring and summer before his sophomore year, plus some time that season.
So 2016, was the first he was fully right the whole way, and it showed.
“I probably had the best season since I’ve been here this year because I’ve been healthy,” Stallworth said. “That’s what I’m going to try to continue doing for next year too. I wish I was like that the first two seasons.”
The 6-foot-2, 310-pound lineman became one of South Carolina’s most consistent presences on the interior of the defensive front in 2016. Unofficially, he was regularly the top defensive lineman in terms of snaps played.
He made 41 tackles, three for loss, with three pass breakups. He held up in the run game better than most of the other Gamecocks linemen, often standing up offensive linemen and throwing them off to get to a ball carrier running by.
Stallworth will return in a position to be even more of a leader as the Gamecocks lose their top two edge players (Marquavius Lewis, Darius English), and rotation tackles Abu Lamin and Kelsey Griffin also moved on.
The senior said there’s one area he aimed to focus on in the offseason. With with only one sack and a couple quarterback hurries, it makes sense.
“Next year my emphasis is going to be on my speed and my pass rush because last year, I was more of a run stopper, some of a pass rusher,” Stallworth said. “Next year, I’m going to focus on my pass rush even more, on like third downs.”