By LARRY VAUGHT
He was not highly recruited but never doubted that he could find success playing football at Kentucky.
“I always believed in myself. It was never about proving anybody else wrong. It was about proving me right. I thought I had the capabilities to be a really good player and put in the work and time to make that happen,” said Kentucky defensive lineman Calvin Taylor, a fifth-year player out of Augusta, Ga.
The 6-9, 300-pound Taylor was all-state in basketball at Augusta Christian High School – he once guarded Zion Williamson in an AAU event – and his team won a state title his senior year. However, he also had 46 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two quarterback sacks and one fumble recovery his senior football season when he caught the attention of UK coach Mark Stoops and his staff.
“He was one of those guys we came across late. He had that length you love and are looking for,” Stoops said. “He had great size. We knew if things did not work out on the defensive line he probably would make a heck of an offensive tackle (a position he also played in high school), and he probably still could.
“He has developed so well on the defensive line. What I really love about him is that he is constantly worrying about what he has to do on a daily basis to improve.”
Stoops admires how Taylor didn’t let the fact few schools knew about him impact the player he has become for the Wildcats (he started the final nine games last year and has 18 tackles in five games this year).
“He has come in here and become a heck of a player. He’s getting better every opportunity he gets. It took time for him to develop but that’s what makes me so proud of Calvin and he has become one of the leaders on our team,” Stoops said.
Maybe no one enjoyed the Kroger Field atmosphere when UK played Florida more than Taylor.
“When I first came here and talked to coach Stoops he said we are really going to change this around. Everybody thinks things about us but we knew we could change the program around. This is what I signed up for,” Taylor said. “I so appreciated BBN for coming out and supporting us that way.
“I just work as hard as I can and when I got the opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it. I have came a long way. I have never been like an individual accolades type of guy. I just want our team to win. If you don’t win, you can’t ever give yourself a good grade because you play to win.”
Taylor says there is a “lot more” he can still do to improve this year and a “lot of stuff I can tap into” to play a more complete game. Yet just what he has done so far has everybody back in Augusta, Ga., “very proud” of him.
He was one of the few bright spots for UK in last week’s loss at South Carolina. He had seven solo tackles, one quarterback sack, one tackle for loss and forced a fumble.
“I just want to show the young kids from where I am from that there is a way out and you could be here, too,” Taylor said.
A mission trip to Ethiopia through UK Athletics with Ordinary Hero with teammates Landon Young and Boogie Watson in the spring also helped changed his perspective – something he admits helps when things are not going right.
“That’s one of those things that was a life-changing thing. Maybe before I took that trip I would have reacted a certain type of way to losing but that changed my perspective,” Taylor said. “It is another day and we are blessed to be here even if you don’t win. I am just taking that and moving forward. I still want to win. Don’t doubt that. It’s just I can accept things better because of what I saw and learned on that mission trip. I won’t ever forget those lessons I learned.”