Hopewell Standouts Smith, Taylor Verbally Commit
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 16, 2013, 09:02
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — The heart of a football team belongs on the offensive line while the playmakers are normally found in the backfield, and Hopewell's football team was no exception during the 2013 season.
Tyler Smith exhibited quiet leadership along the offensive line while Tabyus Taylor supplied the highlight-reel plays which helped the Blue Devils to a 6-6 record while reaching the second-round of the Virginia High School League Playoffs. However, for the two seniors, the loss to Loudoun Valley will not be the final time they will strap on the shoulder pads and snap their chin straps into place.
Last week both Smith and Taylor verbally committed to Campbell University and Virginia Tech University, earning themselves four more years of game days. The scholarship offers to Division I football institutions did not happen overnight for either of the Blue Devils' players, but from the course of hard work over the previous four years.
And perhaps no one better exemplifies the work-ethic it takes to be successful than Smith who showed tremendous toughness while playing with a torn labrum during his sophomore year which he later had to have surgery on. It was because of these instances, Hopewell head coach Ricky Irby knew Smith was destined for Saturday nights.
"He has been the epitome of our success," Irby said in his office last week. "The work he's put in and the determination he had to be great is something I've enjoyed while coaching him over the last four years."
It's over the previous four years where Irby recognized the talent Smith possessed. While always having the physical tools — most specifically his height — Smith worked tirelessly to hone his craft.
Making circumstances even more impressive was Smith's transition from being a defensive linemen his first three years to also being a starter on the offensive line this season. While Irby worried about the offensive line entering the season, led by Smith, the line was one of the strongest in the old Central District.
Much of the success falls on the quiet leadership of Smith, showcasing the talent he will take to Campbell University next fall.
"He leads by example out there," Irby said. "He's going to be successful no matter what they ask him to do over there. He's definitely the most coachable kid I've ever coached, he's a hard-worker, he's going to do whatever they ask him to do and do it well."
"I've never been a very loud, outspoken leader," Smith said. "Someone like Ray Lewis is yelling all the time, I always thought of myself as someone who can lead by example and be someone teammates can follow because of the way I carry myself."
Yet, while Smith is the one teammates can follow and quietly makes a huge impact on the field, Taylor is the player who makes the flashy plays that leave the crowd in awe. Much like Smith, Taylor is as unselfish as they come.
The Virginia Tech commit started his high school career as a wide receiver, leading the Metro Area with 990 yards receiving in his junior season while also playing linebacker. However, without a proven quarterback on the roster, Irby placed the talented senior in the backfield and it paid off.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Taylor left many in awe as he improved in each game, throwing the ball with more precision, gained better vision out of the backfield and overpowered opponents with his brute running ability, running for 2,073 yards and 25 touchdowns.
But it was his work-ethic both in the classroom — where he continues to improves his grades — and on the field where he has cut down his 40-yard dash time which most impressed his head coach.
"To walk by the classroom and see him engaged and see the study habits he developed and was able to implement really helped him a lot," Irby said. "His focus and determination that he was going to do it really paid off for him."
However, to Taylor, the hard-work paid off when he was told of the first offer, not the actual commitment. The offer meant more to Taylor because of the work it took to receive it, leading to a celebratory moment when he found out.
"I felt great when I first got it because I had gone through a lot of things," Taylor said. "I think my mom and dad were more excited than I was. I hadn't received an offer like that. My mom was very happy."
Yet, it will be both the Virginia Tech and Campbell football programs who will be most excited for the future which now includes the Hopewell standouts. For the Hokies, Taylor is the ultimate versatile weapon.
Taylor is a running back with a receivers hands, an ideal fit for a Virginia Tech team trying to get back to a power-running type of system. As for what Campbell will be getting in Smith, Irby said it best.
"It's one of the things I told coach Morris when he committed," Irby said. "Your program in four years is going to be better because he was here."
If what they accomplished in their years at Hopewell is any indication, then both the Hokies and Fighting Camels will gain leaders on the field who can make others better, setting the stage for a successful program.