As linebacker Jack Tyler racked up tackle after tackle on his way to an All-ACC season, Bruce Taylor liked to give his younger teammate not-so-subtle reminders about why he was getting in on all those plays. Namely, that he was playing Taylor’s old mike position.
“All the time I remind him,” Taylor said, smiling. “I guess the other day when the coach’s All-ACC something came out and he was [on it], I was like, ‘Congrats,’” he added, a heavy dose of friendly sarcasm in his voice.
“I mess with him all the time because he’s getting all the love now that I used to get when I was at mike. It’s all good. I know it all works In the scheme of the defense and everyone has a role. That’s his role this year. Play-maker.”
For Taylor, a senior coming back from a Lisfranc injury that cut short what was going to be an All-ACC 2011 season, that meant adopting a different role, moving to backer to fill in for an injured Tariq Edwards and allowing Tyler to move into the starting lineup at mike.
The senior’s stats might not be gaudy — he had 65 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks in 11 games — but his role remained was critical. He played out of position and through some pain, having some added adversity in the middle of the season when the grandmother who helped raised him passed away. He maintained a leadership role throughout, though.
“We moved him to backer. Never questioned it one bit. Was a team guy,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “And I really think this: he was one of the guys down the stretch, especially on our side of the ball, when things weren’t going well, that was being very positive, encouraging the other players, encouraging his teammates, and I’m proud of what he did as a leader. He very easily, like a lot of guys could have, folded their tents so to speak and put it up. But he didn’t and I appreciate that.”
It’s a role Taylor grew into as the season progressed, one that was unusual, given the lack of vocal players on the defensive side of the ball.
“When I’ve been here, it’s never been just one guy,” Taylor said. “It’s always been a group of guys. And so the character of our team this year was a little different. It wasn’t a group effort as much. That’s why I felt I had to take on a bigger role than past seniors and past leaders. Because they’ve had somebody to fall back on or a group of guys.
“For me, I kind of internalized a lot of stuff that was going on with the team and took it as my fault. I was trying to fix it. It’s definitely been tough and been a learning experience for me and who I am as a person.”
After the Russell Athletic Bowl, he’ll try to embark on an NFL career, the one put in doubt by last year’s foot injury. He’s committed to play in the 2013 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a showcase all-star game in Carson, Calif., on Jan. 19.
“I think Bruce has still got a good upside,” Foster said. “He’s a big, physical kid. He’s a good finisher. He’s a good blitzer. He plays the game hard and has a nose for the football. Very instinctive. So I think he still has a bright future ahead of him.”
“I think as far as the next level, I think I’ve definitely shown that I can play,” Taylor said. “I have a little bit of versatility. … This year with my change in roles, I feel like I did a good job of later on in the year, buying in to rushing off the edge and doing all that type stuff.”
But first, there’s the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers on Dec. 28, a game that might not excite the fan base but one that means a lot to the departing senior.
“To me, it’s kind of like a farewell to … all the Hokie fans, really,” he said. ” It’s my last time suiting up, wearing a VT on my helmet, so it’s definitely going to be a special day. I just want to make sure that I go out there and have the best game of my life. The fans have been so good to me over the years, and it’s the only way really that I feel I could give back to everybody, to the program and everything for all they’ve done for me.”