June 30, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
Not so long ago, Cooper Taylor was stuck in traffic and shrinking. Feeling a bit like a compact car in a traffic jam among SUVs and trucks, he struggled physically with the first sedentary phase of his life. His emotions were perhaps an equal wreck.
He’s a happy camper now that the NCAA and ACC have granted him a medical redshirt year, but within a month of November surgery to correct a condition where the electrical impulses in his heart occasionally went out of whack, he went from 200 pounds to around 180.
When you’re a tad over 6-feet-4, that leaves you looking less like a football player than a bean pole.
“I have a high metabolism, and trying to even keep my weight steady was a struggle,” he said. “Surgery threw me off; I just didn’t want to eat and not being allowed to work out I was just sitting there. I lost pretty much all my strength, and was just about back to where I was as a sophomore in high school. It was a weird transition.”
Look at the Georgia Tech safety now.
Out of traffic, he’s growing into the role of locomotive and perhaps successor to decorated former Tech safety Morgan Burnett, who left school early for the NFL. With that hardship year granted and three more seasons on The Flats if he wants them, Taylor has a whole lot of track in front of him.
No wonder he was smiling Wednesday morning.
“The main thing is after the surgery, I guess my metabolism slowed down . . . I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been able to put on a lot more muscle,” said the redshirt sophomore management major. “I’m up to about 220 now, and I’d never been over 205 in my life. I’m ready to play in coach Groh’s new defense; I’m really looking forward to it.”
Whether Taylor – who had quite a growth spurt height-wise after arriving at Tech in 2008 — spends more time up in the box or back in the secondary is to be determined. Spring practice was largely about learning new defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. When fall practice begins, there will be more learning, and then the staff will slot players into more specific spots.
Taylor may have the speed, quickness and ball instincts to work at free safety and the physicality sought in strong safeties. Groh – as might be expected of a coach with considerable NFL experience — tends to distinguish the two more than many college coordinators who make safeties interchangeable.
“We’re doing it where you have to know both positions. We really haven’t nailed anything down yet,” Taylor said. “Last year, strong and free (safety) kind of did the same things. This year, there [will be] more of a strong role and a free role. It’s more defined in coach Groh’s defense. We’ll try to figure out who fits which positions best.”
Taylor, who left the Yellow Jackets’ September game at Miami with a rapid heartbeat that led to the diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, grew absurdly antsy when doctors mandated he do little or nothing physical in the wake of surgery. He began settling into a groove during the spring before once again coming upon anxious times.
“It was April and May, taking a lot longer than I thought, and I finally asked [trainer Jay] Shoop what’s taking so long [to hear from the NCAA and ACC],” he said. “He told me they don’t even review it until May or June.”
The good news came in time for Taylor to tailor his summer academic schedule. “I took less hours this summer just because of that,” he said. “I’ve got a whole `nother year to get my degree. I’m excited to get another year of football because this last year really hurt me. I’m taking one long-term [summer] class, Accounting II.”
Lest anyone fear that Taylor is bulking up too much without minding his entire skill set, worry not. He’s returning three times a week to Marist to work with former Tech track star and Olympic gold medalist Antonio McKay: “We work on explosiveness. In college, if you can be big it will help, but if you can’t get there it doesn’t matter. Speed helps equalize the game, helps make up ground if you make a mistake.”
In just a shade over two months, the Jackets will be back on track, and Taylor plans to be there. He’s looking forward to using all upgrades – physical and schematic.
“Last year [the defense] was more about playing off what we do,” he said. “This year, we’re going to see what you do and we’re going to have three or four ways to attack it. Depending on the nuances you do through formations and player tendencies, we’re going to use that to pick the best way to stop you. It’s more sophisticated. I like what we’re doing. I can hardly wait.”