Just a year ago, Davion Taylor was a newcomer to the Colorado football team – and a relative newcomer to the sport – who was fighting to prove he belonged in Division I.
Given his path, Taylor was more than a bit surprised last month when his name appeared on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
“I thought they made a mistake or something,” he said.
Taylor earned his spot on that list by his performance a year ago. Playing the “Buff back” in former coach Mike MacIntyre’s defense, Taylor flourished, with 75 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 11 QB pressures and two fumble recoveries – one of which he returned for a touchdown.
To keep his name in the running for postseason awards, Taylor needs to adjust to a new position this year.
Under first-year head coach Mel Tucker and defensive coordinator Tyson Summers, Taylor will be in the “Star” position, which is similar to the Buff in that it’s an outside linebacker/safety hybrid. It’s much different, however, in that he’ll be tasked with pass coverage much more than last year – and the coverage will be different. According to Taylor, when he went in pass coverage last year, it was often to cover tight ends and running backs. This year, he will be likely be covering a lot of slot receivers.
“I feel like there’s a difference between speed and quickness,” he said. “I have speed, but they have quickness. One advantage about my speed, if they have a break I’ll be able to catch up with them if the ball isn’t thrown yet. I’m trying to work on my quickness and getting faster sideline to sideline and breaking with my hips.”
Taylor said he’s struggling with the pass coverage aspect of the position, but he’s working almost exclusively with the safeties and Summers to get better.
“I’m adjusting to it,” Taylor said. “I still have a lot of work to do. Hopefully during this fall camp I can get where I want to be.
“I feel like it’s going to help me at the next level (in the NFL). I’m trying to make it fun. I love being in the run, I love taking on the big guys. Now I just have to make myself get used to covering these receivers.”
With a 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame and a 10.5-second time in the 100 meters, Taylor has the size and speed to do the job, and Summers is confident he’ll keep improving.
“I thought Davion had a lot of things where his improvement grew exponentially through the spring,” Summers said. “Obviously, he’s a big guy and he’s very talented as far as his ability to run. He knows the things he has to do to continue to improve to be a really good player for us this year. He’s working very hard to be able to correct a lot of things and fine tune them. Davion will be a big part of our defense.”
Tucker added that he believes Taylor is more confident in his coverage during fall camp than he was in spring.
“His eye discipline has gotten a lot better and his technique is more sound than it was,” Tucker said. “He has the speed to do it; it’s just really a matter of technique and fundamentals. He’s really made progress in terms of his coverage.”
Taylor is also more confident individually. He had never really played organized football before his two seasons at Coahoma (Miss.) Community College. He also had very little life experience outside of his native Mississippi.
“I am (growing), with school and everything,” he said. “If I would have stayed down south, I would have had a lot of distractions around me. Now there’s less distractions so I can focus on school, focus on keeping my grades up, focus on football and everything. I’ve made a lot of friends out here.
“I feel like if I had to tell somebody from back home, I’d tell them to spread out, branch out and go to new places. If you just stay in Mississippi it’s like a little bubble. People down there need to branch out and go explore the U.S.”
Taylor’s decision to branch out and come to CU has helped him become a more well-rounded person, as well as a more versatile player.
Heading into his final season of college football, Taylor is hoping this is the springboard to an opportunity in the NFL.
“If I made it this far, I know I can make it to the next level,” he said. “God has really blessed me to make it this far. It’s exciting.”