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August 10, 2012
Devin Taylor is one of the best defensive ends in the country. Even if he won't say so.
The best example is a story that former South Carolina cornerback Chris Culliver loved to tell.
"We was in a car just riding, Devin Taylor's in the back," Culliver said in 2010. "So we had the music going a little bit. I looked in the window and I seen Devin Taylor on the phone. So I said, 'Man, give him some respect, turn the music down.'"
Culliver, large smile creasing his face, proceeded to act out Taylor's actions while talking on the phone. Taylor would nod or shake his head, never saying a word, and somehow, the other person on the line would get it.
"I looked back, said, 'You ain't gonna say nothing?,'" Culliver would say, winding up for the punchline. "He will kind of talk, kid you sometimes, but usually we call him Don't Say Nuthin'."
As he enters his senior year, Taylor's legendary silence has helped add to his reputation. A player that might say four words in a week is a rampaging beast on the field, a rare combination of size, speed and length that causes SEC offensive line coaches to adopt a new dimension of studying game film.
Taylor, who briefly flirted with the NFL Draft after last year before coming back to school, has seen his highlight reel and personal accolade list grow to rival the length of his freakishly extended arms. He hasn't bragged about any of it. He's barely whispered some of it.
So why is it that when asking his teammates how to describe Taylor, they reply with one word that is as far off the supposed target as the pass that Arkansas' Tyler Wilson hastily tried to flip while getting sacked last season, only to see Taylor snatch it and rumble for a touchdown?
"It's kind-of silly stuff, but Devin has a quiet, funny personality," said safety D.J. Swearinger, as bombastic and in-your-face as Taylor isn't. "He's always quiet, but he jokes around a lot when he's around us, too. He's sort of a playful guy."
Swearinger didn't list a lot of specifics, but mentioned that Taylor's idea of a joke was to not say anything for an hour in the pre-game, then wait until a teammate's back is turned and hurl a piece of ice or rolled-up ball of discarded tape at his head. Then walk away without another word, acting as if he doesn't know what happened.
Perhaps the humor needs work, but as the saying goes, YOU tell him.
"He's always quiet with it," Swearinger said. "He sort of leads by example. He really doesn't need to talk a lot."
Jadeveon Clowney, who knows a few things about being highly regarded, used the same term to describe his line mate, the one that he is expected to team with this season for perhaps the best 1-2 combination in the country.
"He's funny," Clowney said. "He cracks a lot of jokes."
Although Taylor cuts it off when it's time to work - even if he has to go nose-to-nose with Clowney, a potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick after the 2013 season.
"He knows when we need to get serious," Clowney said. "There are sometimes when we're joking around and he just looks at us."
It's all in the eyes, as Taylor hardly ever smiles or frowns - at least, in public. Who knows what's going on out there under the lights, when his visage is concealed by bars -- it's also hard to get a glimpse at somebody's face when a player is being dragged down from behind.
Position coach Brad Lawing had to figure out how to reach Taylor. He knew it was going to be difficult when he met the former three-star prospect, warm and full of good cheer to impress the young man, and Taylor silently looked at him, no smile, no frown.
"I remember recruiting him," Lawing said. "It was quite a challenge."
Lawing told a story about the recruitment process when Taylor first emerged into a starter, about working him out at the Gamecocks' summer camp. Lining up across from the spindly but tall high-schooler, Lawing instructed Taylor to come at him, like he was an opposing lineman with the quarterback behind him. Taylor nodded and charged when Lawing said, "Hut!"
"He was fired (up)," Lawing said in 2010. "He got after me. I knew right then he had that competitive nature."
Despite Taylor's silence, Lawing saw what he wanted to see in the hooded expression, fury on the edges, that day. After redshirting in 2008, Taylor got a quick lesson in bringing all that he had right away the next season, when he was put in as a starter after Clifton Geathers was suspended for the season-opener.
The nation was quickly introduced. On the first play of Taylor's career, he forced a fumble. The Gamecocks recovered and scored the only touchdown of a 7-3 win on the ensuing possession.
The awards and huge plays increased throughout 2010 and 2011, leaving Taylor with 27 career tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, two interceptions, 10 passes broken up, two forced fumbles and four recovered fumbles. He's expected to add to it this season, as opponents won't know who to block - double-team Taylor, and there's that Clowney guy to deal with.
Taylor is the leader of the defensive line, even if he doesn't say so. Lawing used to ride Taylor about speaking up more, but gave up when he realized that Taylor just wasn't going to be that kind of speak-up player - he would let his play do the talking.
"We've talked about it a couple of times, but sometimes you can't beat a dead mule," Lawing said. "Everybody has a role, and his role is being a good player and not being very vocal. That's just the way it is. It's hard to make somebody something they're not."
But why is he so quiet? After considering all that Taylor has done for USC, and the riches that await him at the next level, why doesn't he boast, brag and pound his chest after every sack, interception or a stop so hard that the ball-carrier's mother feels it? Why not scream, stomp or shout instead of being silent?
Because he doesn't have to.
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