When the Kentucky football team takes the football field, one player towers over the rest. Standing six feet nine inches tall, Calvin Taylor Jr. is a rare defensive lineman. Derrick LeBlanc has coached countless players, but none like Taylor.
“Never. He’s the first. But you know what, for a guy with unusual height like Calvin Taylor, he does a pretty good job man. He’s probably the most consistent guy we got,” LeBlanc said. “At first I thought we were going to make him an offensive lineman, but he’s shown to prove he can play on defense, so it’s good to have him.”
Since the midway point of last season, Taylor has proved he’s more than just a big body. He recorded a career-high six tackles against Mississippi State. In the Music City Bowl, his first start, he recorded three tackles and a sack. In spring practice he led the defensive line in tackles. That’s pretty good for a guy who hasn’t played much football.
“Basketball was my first sport,” Taylor told KSR. “When I first came here, I wasn’t really a football player. I’d only been playing for three years. There was just a learning curve. The game was real fast and it was real physical. I didn’t lift a lot. Since I’ve been in the weight room, I’ve learned the game of the football. The game has slowed down and it comes a little easier.”
Playing football in the SEC tranches is just a little bit different than playing in the paint.
“In basketball, you’re banging and you’re jumping, but in football you literally get hit every play. It’s like a car crash every play. It’s a big transition.”
Taylor’s height was advantage on the basketball court, but that’s not the case on the defensive line where the low man wins. Taylor will rarely have a lower center-body gravity than the person trying to block him, but he’s found ways to use his length as an advantage.
“You got a guy who’s unusually long,” LeBlanc said. “His arms are so long. He gets good separation. You always say, ‘inside hands win.’ If he gets his hands inside, you can’t block him. Even if he gets them outside, he’s still got the reach advantage. You still can’t block him. He’s got some tools most kids don’t have and he’s using it to his advantage.”
When asked about Taylor, LeBlanc always perks up. Not only does Taylor possess the physical tools, he’s an intelligent football player.
“He’s a sharp kid that knows defense. He’s so long and lengthy. He’s hard to block and he’s versatile. You can play him at the field, play him at the boundary. I kind of joke with him and tell him he can play nose, but he probably won’t do that. But he can play it all. He’s a sharp guy. He’s going to be a very productive young man one day and it carries over onto the field. We depend on Calvin a lot.”
Taylor will likely be the person called upon to replace Josh Paschal against Central Michigan as the five-technique defensive end, but that won’t be the only position he plays. He’ll do whatever he has to do to help the team.
“I’m just a guy that does what I’m supposed to do,” Taylor said. “Whatever side they need me…that’s what I’m here for.”
Kentucky’s defensive line needs Taylor to be a playmaker this fall. After showing flashes last year, he’s steadily improved throughout the spring and summer. LeBlanc is confident the tallest guy on the defensive line will have a big year.
“He’s a big man and he’s going to be physical up front this year. I think he’s going to play pretty well for us.”