Paying His Dues

  • September 27, 2009 12:31 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
September 27, 2009

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The last thing in the world Josh Taylor wanted to do was wait around any longer than he had to.

  Sophomore Josh Taylor recorded his first career sack in a starting role at Auburn.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

Taylor, a sophomore defensive tackle from Miramar, Fla., was about to make his first college start in Jordan-Hare Stadium against Auburn. It was a night game and it was raining – hard.

“When we first came out I was real anxious to start and then when we went back in I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. I want to get out there and play.’ It was basically something I had to overcome,” Taylor said.

College football can sometimes be cruel and unforgiving. Josh Taylor has come to understand that. After an undistinguished high school career playing at Miramar High School in Miramar, Fla., Taylor wasn’t recruited by other colleges.

So he recruited them.

“I was applying to a bunch of different schools – Florida State, Central Florida, South Florida - no one was interested in me,” Taylor recalled. “Most teams didn’t give me a shot.”

Taylor said a couple of Division II schools called but he wasn’t really interested in what they had to offer. So he sat down with Miramar coach Damon Cogdell, who just happened to play linebacker for Don Nehlen at West Virginia, and the two came up with a plan.

“Coach told me to just apply to West Virginia and go up there and walk on. So that’s what I did,” Taylor said.

“I came up here and talked to the coaching staff when Coach Rod was here, and they gave me a chance to walk on and I was happy when Coach Stew took over and he kept me. He basically embraced me and gave me a shot,” Taylor said. “He gave me a scholarship, and I’m thankful for all that he has done for me.”

Lo and behold, Bill Stewart had another disciple.

Taylor has done everything and more to work his way into the defensive line rotation. Earlier this fall, he earned one of four scholarships awarded to walk-ons, and he is beginning to show signs of being a really solid Division I defensive tackle.

He’s not overly big, 6-feet-1 and 272 pounds, but he has a pretty good motor and a willingness to go hard on every play.

“My coaches always say keep straining and you will get good results,” Taylor said. “It’s always a matter of straining. You can always strain more. There is a max level but I think you can always go higher. If you give 110 percent on every play you will get good results.”

Taylor experienced that first hand in the first quarter of the Auburn game when his great effort led to a three-yard sack of Tiger quarterback Chris Todd. There was no twisting or stunting to get Taylor free – just a straight rush where Taylor kept after it, beat his man, and got to the quarterback.

“I didn’t even really know I had a sack until I got to the sideline and everybody started slapping me in the head,” Taylor said. “They almost gave me a concussion.”

Taylor also had a tackle for a loss against Auburn, but he admits there were plenty of plays that weren’t as positive.

“I learned a whole lot from this game,” Taylor said. “I learned from the mistakes I made on certain plays and I think I can take advantage of that.”

There were times when Taylor said he made a wrong read or did not use a proper technique that he knew was going to show up on film.

“It was toughest waiting to see what my grade was going to be,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh man what is (defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich) going to say about this play or that play?’”

Taylor estimates he played about 45 snaps (about three-quarters of a game worth of action) in West Virginia’s first two games against Liberty and East Carolina. Most of those 45 snaps came in the East Carolina victory after starting tackle Scooter Berry went down with a shoulder injury.

All during the Auburn week Taylor kept asking Berry if he thought he would be ready to go.

“It was a day-to-day thing and I kept asking Scoot if he was going to be able to play,” Taylor said. “He was like, ‘I don’t know. Just be ready.’ I was getting ready all week for it. I’m still getting ready now.”

Berry went through pregame warm-ups but when the rain storm came it was decided not to risk turning a manageable shoulder problem into something unmanageable. That’s when Josh knew for certain that he was starting.

“The coaches already told me, ‘We need you for this game. Be ready.’ I just had the mindset that I was going to be starting so I wouldn’t be caught in a situation like, ‘Oh man, I’m starting. What am I going to do?’”

Making matters even more difficult for the first-time starter was the fact that Auburn’s offense was by no means conventional.

“Before the play I was getting my reads, looking where the running backs were,” Taylor said. “The coaches told me that certain running backs run certain plays, so I’ve got to do this or I’ve got to do that to get ready for this play.

“We communicated well against the run and we got good results against the run,” Taylor said. “But I could have gotten a better pass rush to help out the DBs.”

With an extra 10 days to get his shoulder better, Berry should be ready to go when West Virginia faces Colorado Thursday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.

But at the very least, the Mountaineers have found themselves a pretty good insurance policy in Josh Taylor, who figures to see more action whether the other defensive linemen are healthy or not. He has earned that right.