Calvin Taylor Jr. has become a real force on Kentucky’s defensive line in his senior season for the Wildcats. Matter of fact, this week he earned the league’s SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award for his performance in last Saturday’s game against Missouri, in which he totaled three tackles, including a career-high two quarterback sacks, as well as a forced fumble on one of those sacks.
Taylor currently ranks third in the conference with five sacks this season.
It is hard to imagine anyone saw this coming when Taylor signed to Kentucky’s 2015 recruiting class as an unranked offensive lineman out of Augusta, Georgia. He didn’t even have a scholarship offer from UK until seven weeks after Signing Day, once one of Mark Stoops’ other roster spots opened up to make room for another addition to the class.
Taylor committed the day he received the scholarship offer; until then, his only Division I football offer was from Temple. He had always considered himself a basketball player instead.
I am blessed to say that I have received an offer from Kentucky and I have committed! Officially a Wildcat! #BBN ??????????
— Calvin Taylor (@calv_huncho) March 29, 2015
Looking back on that late find in the spring of 2015, Stoops said, “Here’s a guy that completely flew under the radar. We went and looked at him; we saw him working out and said, ‘Here’s a big guy with so much length, who can possibly play offensive line, maybe defensive line.’ And then as he got here, he’s been getting better and better. (He’s) very conscientious about doing the right things, about developing.
“We use Josh (Allen) as the poster child for that because he went so high, but really why not use Calvin?” Stoops asked.
Their stories are similar. They chased basketball first, they had only one other football offer outside of Kentucky, and they turned their untapped potential into playmaking ability on Saturdays in the SEC. Allen’s journey will likely include an extra digit or two next to the dollar sign, but Taylor has done well for himself so far in following the Jacksonville star’s path.
And that path has not been easy.
“Along the way there was a lot of frustration,” said Taylor. “But I have some good people in my corner — my mom, my friends, so many people in my corner — telling me to keep the course, and (I am) just always working out and always working hard. I knew one day it would pay off and now I’m reaping the blessings of that.”
He recalls redshirting that freshman year at UK, then playing very limited snaps in his second season. “My redshirt sophomore year is when I began to play,” he explained of the 2016 season, when he cracked the rotation. “I really felt like every game I was getting better and better, and getting more comfortable. My redshirt junior year, I felt like I really started progressing; then the bowl game, I really took that momentum into the summer and into this season.”
Now he is winning awards for his play in critical games for Kentucky, and Mark Stoops couldn’t be prouder of the diamond in the rough the UK staff found back in 2015.
“He’s a guy you just appreciate so much,” Stoops said. “He wasn’t heavily recruited at all, he got here and completely redshirted the first year with no thought of playing him because we needed him to develop in so many areas. The next year you might as well call it another redshirt because he was just developing and not ready to play in games. But the last two years of course, he’s a mainstay for us and an every down player.
“This year he’s taken his game to whole nother level. Last year was one of those things — we could always count on him being at the right place at the right time, always trying to do the right things. But now this year he has taken it to a whole nother level and making a big impact and some impact plays. I’m just so proud of him.”
With four regular season games left and new shiny hardware in his trophy case, is Taylor driven to go out and win more?
He says no, actually.
“It doesn’t really drive me,” Taylor admitted. “I have other things that kind of fuel me. I never really let (any accolades) change me because I still go about it the same way. I’m always still working, always trying to outwork the next person — that’s always my motto. It’s nice to have (trophies), but in the end it doesn’t matter when you’re on the field. It’s all the same between the lines.”
Next up between the lines for Taylor and Kentucky is Tennessee. He had three solo tackles and a fumble recovery when the two sides met last year in Knoxville, but it was the Vols that earned the victory in the end, a game Taylor remembers well.
“I got something for them, a little revenge.”