McDONOUGH, Ga. — Call me an old man, a purist, nostalgic or just a plain old traditionalist. Whatever. But I just love a throwback.
Throwback jerseys, Throwback Thursdays, throwback music (I know I’m getting old when music from the 1990s is considered “classic”).
Throwback football players.
And I’m really in the mood for the latter right now. Call it an ever growing football jones as the 2016 season approaches, or just call it the persona of one who has been described by his wife as a 76 year old soul trapped in a 36 year old’s body.
I don’t care what you call it, so long as you call it true.
While I certainly appreciate the advances of postmodernity has brought us, I can also still appreciate the era before the fruits of our current technological boom.
That appreciation probably manifests itself greatest through the game of football, where hard core, hard nosed and “smash mouth” seem to be synonymous with the old days of the game than the current days — which, for me, those old days aren’t as “old” as they are for some.
i mean, I’m talking late 1980s, early 1990s, before the advent of social media and online journalism. During the days when you actually had to wait until the newspaper showed up at your front door the day after the game to enjoy all the analysis on your favorite team from your favorite sportswriters, and to hear what the coaches and players had to say about the game.
When I think of that era, I think of Buddy Ryan’s “46” defense. Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma wishbone. Tom Osborne’s Nebraska I-formation triple option.
I think of players who cared more about championships than contracts. Young men who wanted to build a dynasty instead of being a part of buying one or transferring to an already established one.
Players who wanted to intimidate more than entertain — guys who talked more with their play than with their mouths.
So imagine my pleasure Monday afternoon when I got the chance to meet Harrison Taylor.
The junior ELCA defensive end is a 6-foot-3, 200 pound productivity machine. As a sophomore he amassed over 100 tackles, and helped the Chargers win its second Class A championship last year.
On film, he pops out at you, not necessarily for his blinding speed or his overpowering stature, but for his quiet, almost unassuming tenacity. His knack for being in the right place at the right time, which, for his position, is usually somewhere roaming in the opponents offensive backfield.
Also, for his fondness of flipping a guy to his back when blocking on the line as kicker Alex Usry lines up to kick an extra point.
He’s a throwback kinda guy, because when you talk to him, he reminds you of every thing that a purist would say is right about football.
He’s a program guy with a team first mentality, who plays, not just because it’s a ticket to college or so that he can get all the girls, but because there’s a special pride about playing for the name on the front of his chest.
He’s a flashback to a simpler era of life and football, because when he makes a big play, he doesn’t overshadow it with his own post-play antics. He doesn’t care whether or not his highlight reel is being retweeted on Twitter. Heck, he doesn’t even remember his Twitter handle.
He’s quiet. A man of few words, but those words are laced with focus, drive and intensity. He doesn’t run from the spotlight, but he doesn’t sprint toward it either. No wonder why ELCA coach Jonathan Gess called his name first when asked about guys who he expects to make big contributions in ELCA’s title defense season.
“Harrison Taylor makes over 100 tackles last year, yet he’s a guy really that no one talks about,” Gess said.
And it’s true — at least for me. Up until Monday I can’t recall ever hearing anyone mention his name much in the conversation of area players to watch — or even ELCA rising stars. Sure, we all know Trevor Gear and Josh Mays. We’ ogle the talents of Khaled Hood, whom Gess says may be ELCA’s best around football player.
You’ll probably hear about Tre Douglas, Sean Queen and new heir apparent at quarterback Brayden Rush before Taylor’s name falls into your ears in the preseason. But expect that to change over the next couple of years.
When Gess talks about Taylor, he puts him in rarified air, as far as ELCA defensive ends go over the last five years.
“We feel like he is as productive a defensive end as the good ones we’ve had around here,” Gess said. “I’m talking about guys like Isaac Rochell (Notre Dame) and Andrew Williams (Auburn). He’s a different type of D-end from those guys, but we feel he’s just as productive, if not more so.”
And it’s because of that, Gess is asking his junior defender to carry a heavy load for a team which will boast as much inexperience as it does talent in 2016.
“We really ask him to eb the most dominant player on the field,” Gess said. “The way he practiced last week, he proved he can be that. The way he played last year, he proved he can do that.”
And as far as Taylor is concerned, those glowing accolades from his coach only does good things to his already solid work ethic.
“To hear him say that, it just makes me work harder,” Taylor said, matter-of-factly. “I just have learned that working hard always gets you somewhere in life. Working hard gets you better. I just try to apply that to football.”
He did it during the offseason by getting noticeably bigger, adding muscle to his lean frame. He said he also took advantage of some new equipment on campus to help him get faster and stronger.
Taylor doesn’t have a favorite NFL or college player that he looks up to or patterns his game after. He prefers to keep his eyes on a couple of ELCA-bred guys to draw inspiration.
“I look up to a lot of guys that used to go here,” he said. “Isaac Rochell. Andrew Williams. Guys like that. It’s great being able to play for this program and represent this program. It’s all about brotherhood here.”
His maturity exceeds that of most athletes who still have sophomore milk on their breath. And while he’s not going to be the “rah-rah” guy on the field — Gess said he’s still searching for vocal leaders on this team — both Gess and Taylor believe his play on the field and his steady persona should be enough of an example for young Chargers to follow.
“I’m not asking him to be a vocal leader,” Gess said. “But with his play and how he carries himself, just be dominant.”
And that’s an expectation perfectly suited for a guy who doesn’t seem to see the need in a lot of extra words.
“You just step up and a be a leader, and start taking on that role early with the younger players,” Taylor said. “You don’t always have to talk. It’s just a different type of leadership. Just follow your action. Younger guys follow the older guys’ lead.”
Definitely a different way of thinking in this era of athletics when athletes are quick to jump ship for what they feel are greener pastures, if not spoon fed instant playing time. To see a guy at age 16 or 17 who still values hard work and a blue collar, lunch pale mentality is refreshing.
And to be sure, it’s definitely a mentality that seems to be rubbing off on this year’s version of ELCA football.
As Taylor and I wrapped up his interview, you could hear Gess in the background jawing at his offensive line to be more physical. He was more animated. More forceful in tone and rhetoric than I remember him being in years past.
He told his trenchmen, in essence, that what they may have lacked in experience, they were going to have to make up for it in toughness and physicality.
It was fitting, then, that against that backdrop, Taylor wrapped up his two word epithet of what he’s seen so far from this 2016 squad.
“Hard working,” he said, almost before I had completed asking the question. When asked how it compared to the work ethic of the 2015 championship squad, he gave another cut-and-dried response.
“I’d say it’s about the same,” he replied. Then looked at me with a steely gaze as if to say, “there’s nothing more to be said.”
I read between the lines, and heard Taylor saying that talk is cheap. And I agree. And even if the 2016 ELCA Football Chargers don’t have the proven playmakers it had a year ago, Taylor’s throwback mindset could be enough, if widely adopted, to give the Chargers the kind of throwback every championship team desires.
Gabriel Stovall is the founding editor of the Southern Crescent Buzz. He can be reached for story ideas and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him and us on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 and @crescent_buzz.