Preseason Check-in: DE Justin Taylor

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At the urging of his cousin, current UNC freshman defensive back Terry Shankle, Justin Taylor came out for the varsity football team only two weeks before the start of last season. Taylor, now a senior, had never played football before, but South Stanly (Norwood, N.C.) head coach Luke Little found a role for the athletic 6-4, 220-pound prospect.

Taylor did well last season at defensive end and on special teams, and Coach Little expects more out of his standout prospect this season. So far, though, he has been sidelined for most of preseason practice.

“He tweaked a hamstring in the last 7-on-7 game we had. We’ve kept him out of practice up until this week,” Little said. “He got through his entire first practice fine until the end. Then, he tweaked it again. Our first game is this Friday. We feel like we can win without him this week. We have a bye next week and we feel like we should win again in week three. Week four is the start of conference play, so we may hold him out until then so he can be healthy.”

South Stanly’s defense has changed this season, meaning the Virginia Tech recruit will be manning another spot. Taylor had impressed in the new role before the hamstring pull.

“This summer, he played outside linebacker and looked real good,” Little said. “We’re running more of a 3-4 look this year. He’s going to do more than just pass rush. He played defensive end last year and all he did was chase. He didn’t have to worry about anything else. He was doing well until he got hurt. He was doing good.”

Taylor has adapted well to just playing football, which of course is still a new thing for the talented athlete.

“The main thing is he feels more comfortable with himself now,” Little said. “He only came out two weeks before the season started last year. He had never played. He knows a little bit more now. He knows what’s going on. I think he can do big things this year off the fact that he understands everything better.”

As a junior last season, Taylor impressed college coaches with his energy, athleticism and upside. This included Virginia Tech’s coaches, which offered the Fayetteville Observer’s 8th-ranked player in the state in the spring. Taylor, who chose the Hokies over offers from Arkansas, Auburn, East Carolina, Kentucky and N.C.