Taylor's Stock Rises
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 28, 2014, 08:23
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — Darrell Taylor's 2013 football season was not the one the junior expected to have. While his team achieved great success after struggling through a tough early schedule before rallying late to clinch a playoff berth, he rarely played a pivotal part.
Taylor saw more action from the sidelines than he did from his customary linebacker position due to an assortment of injuries he attempted to play through during multiple points of the season. Yet, even though he was not able to produce weekly the way he wanted, his effort while on the gridiron has brought him outside attention.
Over the last few weeks, there may be no hotter name on the college recruiting trail than Taylor's.
Since earning a four-star ranking, the first Hopewell player in school history to receive such an honor, Taylor has picked up 17 offers from schools spanning the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and even the Big Ten Conference.
And while the offers have grown more impressive by the day, Blue Devils head coach Ricky Irby spoke back in February about what it means for the entire Hopewell program.
"It means that our kids are getting noticed here for their hard work and it's possible to go Division I from Hopewell High School," Irby said before a basketball game on Bill Littlepage Court. "That's what we want for them and it's great to see."
But it means something else for the junior who has dealt with his own personal struggles.
Taylor's goal was to work hard enough in the classroom and the football field in order to gain an athletic scholarship. It was a promise he made to his mother who had passed away from breast cancer and was the team's biggest fan while attending all the games.
It's why the football team donned pink throughout the month of October and the school's basketball team laced up pink sneakers throughout the entire season. Yet, the attention the junior has gotten is all of his own making.
Taylor may not have been able to suit up as often as he liked, but his presence was felt when he was. The junior made a difference for Hopewell on the defensive side of the ball while getting into the opponent's backfield to stop the run en route to a 48.5-tackle, 15.5 tackle for a loss and nine-sack season.
"You get on the football field at the linebacker or defensive end position and if you are 6-foot-4, you pretty much overmatch everybody out there," Irby said of Taylor's impact. "I really think from day 1, he realized that he could be pretty good at this game."
But that realization has only been reinforced over the last few weeks as Taylor has seen his stock rise exponentially while receiving an offer from his favorite college team, University of Florida.
The offer from the perennial SEC contender was the second from the conference in a span of two days — the other came from Tennessee — with also Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami each offering the Hopewell junior as well. It's also very likely more offers will soon be coming his way in the coming weeks as Oregon, Penn State and even Ohio State have all shown interest in the linebacker.
And the reason why is simple — Taylor's talent seems limitless.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
All it took was one play during the 2013 season to know just how much of a difference-maker he could be for Hopewell and will likely be for a college team at the next level.
In game a Hopewell needed to win after dropping their first two of the season, Taylor came up big as Hanover High School was in the red zone looking to deliver a finishing blow with just eight minutes remaining. The Hawks had used the screen-pass for devastating gains all game long and Taylor sensed they were going to use the same play again.
As the ball was snapped, Taylor recognized the play and deftly backpedaled his way into coverage before zeroing in on the opposing quarterback's eyes as he raced up, intercepted the pass and took it 67 yards into the end zone for a touchdown without ever being touched.
And it's the way he left the Hawks in the dust with his speed and athleticism that is symbolic of the way his recruiting has gone. It started slowly as the injuries hurt some of the attention, got warmer as teams recognized his talent just like how Taylor eyed the quarterback and has been on fire since like the way his interception return jump-started Hopewell.
Whatever team Taylor does decide on attending starting in the Fall of 2015, one thing is certain. They are getting a player who not only has tremendous talent, but a desire to get better after having to earn everything that has come his way, and that's what makes him almost certain to have success wherever he goes.