SALISBURY — Falling backwards, Catawba linebacker Jason Taylor bear-hugged Newberry receiver Corey Washington to the ground for a loss of 1, but Taylor stayed down after teammate Dennis McFatten, who had assisted on the tackle, and Washington got up.
Catawba head coach Curtis Walker saw Taylor on the ground and rushed out to check on him.
“I told him he was going to be all right, but I could see him grimacing,” Walker said. “I didn’t know if we’d be getting him back.”
It was early in the second quarter when Taylor was helped from the field with a high ankle sprain, and the high ones are the bad ones.
Still, when Newberry ran its first play of the second half, there was Taylor, back in there, and making the stop on quarterback W.T. Murden.
“Our trainers did a great job, but mostly that’s just one very tough young man,” Walker said.
While most of Saturday’s 27-0 home loss to Newberry was disastrous, the tough Taylor’s play was a bright spot. Despite the ailing ankle, the junior made a team-high 11 tackles, two for loss, and he was named Catawba’s defensive player of the week.
He was the only weekly award winner. Not surprisingly, the player of the week for offense and special teams was the dreaded “none named.”
It’s interesting that Walker is getting a second chance to coach Taylor.
When Walker was at Coastal Carolina, he was involved in recruiting Taylor, who was following in the footsteps of a talented father and starring at Northern Durham High.
“At Coastal, we weren’t quite sure if Jason would be a defensive end or a linebacker,” Walker explained. “Coastal actually ended up signing one of Jason’s friends (Northern’s Anthony Burton), but we didn’t sign Jason. Now that I really know who Jason is, it’s tough knowing we let him go. He not only has great ability, he has great character.”
At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Taylor looks different than almost all of his teammates. All the Indians are strong or fast or both, but few of them have Taylor’s height. Usually, the 6-3 guys go to Division I schools.
“I was recruited by some big schools,” Taylor said. “But I didn’t make my qualifying SAT score until pretty late.”
By then, the big schools had moved on to other prospects, but it opened the door for Catawba. Taylor’s choice came down to Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne and UNC Pembroke.
It was (former linebackers coach) Todd McComb who recruited me,” Taylor said. “I remember seeing him on the sideline for the first time when we were in a playoff game. He talked to me about visiting Catawba, and I just fell in love with it.”
Taylor had to be rushed into action as a true freshman in 2011, but he moved into a starting role. He had 36 tackles and three forced fumbles as a freshman, and he had 83 tackles as a sophomore. He leads Catawba in tackles this season with 23 and has one sack.
“Cory Johnson taught me a lot,” said Taylor, praising a former Catawba linebacker. “He had so much passion, and he made me love the game even more than I had before. One thing I learned from his is that every day is a good day to get better.”
Catawba has to get better fast, with a game at nationally ranked Carson-Newman looming on Saturday.
“We’ll keep working,” Taylor said. “We’re not going to let one loss hold us down.”
Senior defensive lineman Jarrod Cave, a thickly built redhead from Surry Central, is a country boy who is making a contribution on the defensive line.
“I come from Mayberry,” Cave said with a laugh. “In high school, I thought I was pretty good, but then coming to Catawba was a real eye opener. We didn’t play against a lot of guys who were big and fast in high school.”
Cave had one of those dream moments for a lineman early last season. Damien Lee forced a fumble against West Liberty, and Cave rumbled with it 15 yards to the house.
“I scooped and scored — and then I really didn’t know what to with myself,” Cave said.
Walker said Cave, who has six tackles this season, has been a key guy on the team. Cave is listed as the backup to Lee at defensive end, but Catawba plays a lot of defensive linemen a lot of snaps, and that way everyone stays fresh.
“Jarrod is a strong young man, a true leader on the defense and a valuable player,” Walker said. “He does everything right — in the classroom, in the community and on the field.”
Cave was as disappointed as anyone with Catawba’s setback on Saturday, but he plans to help get things turned around against Carson-Newman.
“We played hard — it just didn’t work out for us against Newberry,” Cave said. “But there was no pointing fingers or anything like that. We’re still determined to establish a certain style of play here, and I just try to be a good example to all the young guys in the program.”
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