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September 14, 2010

Don't Say Nuthin' Speaking Loudly

Chris Culliver told the story with great enthusiasm.

"We was in a car just riding, Devin Taylor's in the back," Culliver said after South Carolina's practice on Monday. "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.'

"Whole time the conversation went like this," Culliver said, before holding an imaginary phone to his ear. Not saying a word, Culliver nodded his head yes, shook his head no and shrugged his shoulders (Culliver on Taylor).

"I looked back, said, 'You ain't gonna say nothing?,'" Culliver said as he finished the story to waves of laughter. "He will kind of talk, kid you sometimes, but usually we call him Don't Say Nuthin'."

A 6-foot-8, 244-pound defensive end who has 10 tackles and two sacks in the No. 13 Gamecocks' first two games is famous ... for being quiet. Taylor, the redshirt sophomore who elbowed his way onto the scene last year and is quickly giving team captain Cliff Matthews competition when outsiders discuss the Gamecocks' best DE, only loosens the stitches holding his lips shut when he feels he needs to -- which is hardly ever.

"He don't really say nothing," said tackle Ladi Ajiboye, who often lines up beside Taylor in the SEC trenches. "He won't say nothing on the field, either. He makes a play, he just, 'Hey, I did it.'"

Ajiboye mimicked Culliver in illustrating how Taylor reacts. He shrugged and spread his arms wide, explaining that Taylor speaks with his actions instead of woofing his greatness to the crowd. The silent earnestness that Taylor brought to USC earned him his nickname and has become a running gag.

"But now, on the low, he's talking our heads off a little bit," Ajiboye conspiratorially said. "We're getting tired of him talking to us."

During the Gamecocks' 17-6 upset of then-No. 22 Georgia on Saturday, Taylor dropped quarterback Aaron Murray twice but didn't celebrate it much. He just went to the next play.

It was the same approach he took after his first college game. Pressed into service when Clifton Geathers was suspended for the season-opener at NC State in 2009, Taylor got the call to start. On his first play, he charged at Toney Baker, got a hand on the ball and ripped it loose, which USC recovered and turned into the only points it scored all night.

Taylor also blocked a punt that night and forced another fumble, besides recording six tackles. He wound up playing in 12 of the Gamecocks' 13 games, missing the Florida loss with a bruised sternum, while winning Freshman All-SEC honors from the league's coaches.

And he did it while speaking about 38 words.

"I don't really talk much unless I really see something," Taylor said on Monday, his voice low but clear. "Growing up, that's just how I always played."

The baby in a four-child house, Taylor said his two older brothers and older sister are the complete opposite of him in how they express their feelings. Never a player who begged for the spotlight at Beaufort High School, he preferred to get himself recognized by playing football, not for the cameras between snaps.

As a collegian, he figured it was better to sit and learn for a while before he got on the field. His position coach, Brad Lawing, had to test Taylor to get what he wanted.

"Devin is a guy that, we saw him on tape in high school, liked him, got to meet him, and his personality was so mild I wanted to see him in camp," Lawing said. "I do some combative stuff with our kids in camp. He came out and I said, 'Give me your best pass rush move,' and I hit him right in the chest as hard as I could, and he came at me.

"He was fired (up). He got after me. I knew right then he had that competitive nature."

Taylor redshirted in 2008 and used the time to learn. Blending his in-place approach with the example provided by another quiet-but-productive end in Matthews, Taylor listened and tried to echo it.

"We sat down and talked one-on-one, just trying to get him ready for the season," said Matthews, who was given credit for labeling Taylor with his nickname. "He's got a chance to be better than me. He's a beast, and I wish him much success."

The NC State game got him started and it has carried over to 2010. Lawing said Taylor has been the most productive player up front -- considering Matthews, Ajiboye and Travian Robertson are considered strong NFL prospects, it's high praise.

Good luck getting him to say it. Taylor leaves that for others.

"I get on him sometimes when he doesn't talk in meetings. He's not very loud," Lawing said. "That's just him. Everybody's got their own personality. It doesn't affect his football."

There are players that have to pound their chest or scream to let off their wild energy after great plays, big wins or agonizing losses. Then there's Don't Say Nuthin', who hardly unsnaps his chin strap until the game is over.

"During runs and workouts and stuff, everyone else was talking and I just wouldn't say anything," Taylor said. "I pretty much just speak by playing well."

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