Willie Taylor manned so many different positions on defense during his four seasons at North Central that adding a new place to play in college does not faze him one bit.
Throughout his career as a Knight, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder played at linebacker before being inserted into the secondary before playing with his hand in the dirt along the defensive line at nose guard. So when he was recruited by Methodist University, the coaching staff with the Monarchs looked at Taylor as being an outside linebacker.
Accepting and not questioning being shifted to another post on defense is just something which Willie Taylor has learned to deal with over the past four seasons.
“I will play wherever the coach puts me,” Taylor said after signing a National Letter of Intent with Methodist inside The Castle at NCHS. “I’m comfortable playing any position because I played them all on defense in high school. There’s really nothing new to me; it’s something I’ve already been through.
“I will take it day-by day in practice and I’ll train harder and adjust to what they give me on the field.”
Taylor became the second Knight to sign with Methodist, following teammate Omar Johnson who made his commitment official earlier this spring.
“It helps to have somebody around who you know because that way, you won’t be lost,” Taylor said of playing and attending school with Johnson. “Then, you can work out with someone who is similar to you.”
Not only will the soon-to-be NC graduates remain teammates, but they could be vying for the same job. Or, as Knights’ head coach Louis Clyburn hopes, they could be playing across from each other for the Methodist defense.
“I think Willie will, ironically, end up playing the same position that Omar will play,” Clyburn said following the signing ceremony. “Their coaches asked me about it and Willie’s versatility was very attractive to them.
“He was a linebacker as a freshman, a corner as a sophomore then, we moved him to the defensive line for his sheer quickness and his strength,” Clyburn added. “He’s a fast, fast athlete and I think Methodist looked at that as a possible position for him at outside linebacker where he can really contribute. Because of his strength and his speed, he will contribute very early on special teams.”
Due to those qualities, Taylor was a menacing force on the defensive line for the Knights. Quicker than almost any down lineman, he would get around blocks and make his way into the backfield. When he went up against a lineman, however, he had enough power to more than hold his own and be able to make a play.
In his senior campaign, one in which he played entirely on the defensive front, Taylor registered 47 tackles --- including a season-best of nine in a win over Whitmire --- with 11 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. He had a pair of quarterback sacks while both causing and recovering a fumble for the Knights, who made their second straight AA state playoffs in their second year in that division.
While some colleges might tend to overlook someone of Taylor’s size, Methodist continued to recruit the former Knight with assistant coach Keven Williams remaining in contact with Taylor throughout the process.
“The offensive coach came here and told me that they wanted me to play there and he kept in touch with me, which was a good thing,” Taylor said of his connection to the Methodist program. “He asked me to schedule a visit and when I walked around the campus, I really liked it; it was beautiful.
“All the coaches and the players on the football team are really close. They stay connected with me which makes the whole environment better.”
As a projected outside linebacker in college, Taylor will be asked to pack on more pounds to his frame. That, Clyburn said, is something which Taylor has done over the course of the past year, having gained 10 more pounds of muscle. “It’s all muscle,” Clyburn said. “There’s not an ounce of fat on his body. If he is going to play outside linebacker, I think adding another 10 or 15 pounds would serve him well.”
Taylor said he knows he will have to add weight, while not losing his speed and agility in order to be effective at the next level. He said he will continue to work in the weight room and be in the best possible shape by the time he gets to the Fayetteville, N.C. college campus for the start of pre-season practice.
One area which Clyburn said Taylor and nearly all high school players must work on is flexibility. That, said the fifth-year NC head coach, is something the Knights’ stress in their strength and conditioning program.
“He really needs to work on his hip flexibility,” Clyburn said. “That is the thing a lot of high school athletes struggle with. It has a lot to do with core strength.
“In our strength and conditioning class, we’ve really tried to increase that and work with these kids on their flexibility. That is one of those things that, as an athlete, you can improve on. Willie certainly has the work ethic to improve on that and it would then increase his chances of playing at, possibly, a safety or an outside linebacker position.”
With the signing behind him, Taylor flashed a big smile when asked how big a day this was for him. He said he dreamed of playing football at the college level from the day he started playing organized football at North Central Middle School. As he went through his high school career, he said he started to understand what it took to become a football player and what he needed to put into becoming a good high school player and then, a college prospect.
Taylor, Clyburn said, was one of those young men who set a goal for themselves and never lost sight of it. “He’s someone who is going to do whatever it takes in order to be successful,” Clyburn said of Taylor’s character. “I don’t think he’s missed anything in his four years here. He’s been at every workout and at every extra workout; whatever it takes he will do. He’s just that type of kid.
“We’ve been so fortunate with this senior class to have had five or six kids who have been our leaders and our team captains; they’re solid. They don’t do anything to make you question them in any way, shape or form. If somebody was needed to lock up the locker room, Willie was that guy who would do it. He was the first one in the weight room and the last one out of it.”
You can expect Taylor to keep that same type of attitude with him to college. He said the biggest adjustment will be getting accustomed to a new environment and meeting new people. But as for being nervous about what awaits him as he leaves home, Willie Taylor said he was planning for this day longer than he had for playing football after high school.
“I am more excited than I am nervous,” he said with a confident smile when asked of his feelings on signing day.“I already knew I was going to go to college somewhere. (Methodist) is not too far from the house and if I ever need anything, my parents can come up there and help me out, a little bit.”