Dabo Swinney purposed in his heart to make Will Taylor his ace in the hole.
Clemson’s head coach first saw Taylor at a Tigers football camp a few summers ago. Swinney didn’t know Taylor yet, but he was taken aback by his natural talent.
“He’s powerful, but he’s got an explosiveness that you just don’t see and he plays that way all the time,” Swinney said.
Just finishing up his sophomore year of high school, the Irmo native showed poise and moxie at Clemson’s camp, playing much bigger than his 5-foot-10 stature. His speed was dynamic and ability at quarterback was good, but Swinney had another idea. He told current USF head football coach Jeff Scott, who was the Tigers’ co-offensive coordinator at the time, that he was going to have Taylor try out at wide receiver.
Meanwhile, Taylor had a baseball tournament coming up later that week and wanted to save his throwing arm, so he just happened to have his wide receiver gloves at the camp.
The plan worked out better than either could’ve imagined.
“He went two routes, and I was like, ‘Holy cow, this guy is a rocket,’ natural hands, you know,” Swinney said. “Then we just kind of let it go.”
Swinney didn’t offer a spot with the Tigers right away, but told Scott to keep the young talent on ice, banking that Taylor would stay a relatively unknown football prospect.
The rising junior quarterback was a baseball talent, which was where he got most of his looks. As a result, Swinney was hoping Clemson baseball coach Monte Lee would want Taylor as well, which he did. Taylor committed to Lee and the baseball team on July 30, 2019 and then chose Swinney and the Tigers’ football program a year later. In Taylor’s mind, he always knew he was coming to Clemson and nothing was going to change that.
Not even the MLB Draft.
More than money
Even at a young age, Will Taylor understands there are some things money can’t buy. For him, the college experience was one of those things.
He was widely considered to be a first-round pro prospect throughout his senior year at Dutch Fork High School and went through the draft process. An early-round selection can mean millions in signing bonus money.
Taylor said he spoke to all 30 Major League Basbeall teams and took a couple visits to talk to Texas Rangers general manager Chris Young and check out the facility in Arlington, Texas.
“I’m not making any decisions right now, but it’ll be after the season and it depends on how I do this spring,” Taylor told The State’s Lou Bezjak in April.
Not many could relate to Taylor’s experience, especially at such a young age, but Bubba Chandler could. The Georgian was also considered a high draft prospect while being committed to Clemson for football and baseball. The two came to campus in June and roomed together before Chandler opted to begin his professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the first pick in the third round.
“We talked a little bit every night,” Taylor said. “We didn’t really talk much about what we were deciding, but the night of the draft we were keeping each other updated and it was kind of cool to see what people were saying about me and him on the same night. I know he’s satisfied with his decision, and I am as well.”
It’s fair to say even before the draft that Taylor, who still communicates with Chandler, had already made his mind up. There was something about the college experience that drew him in. It was familiar, as opposed to the unknowns of grinding through minor league baseball. He also has a love for Clemson that was unmatched by any dollar value MLB teams had to offer.
Finalizing the decision
On the days of the draft, Taylor’s phone kept ringing with teams calling, hoping he’d change his mind. Finally, the Rangers took him in the 19th round. He politely declined to sign.
It’ll be the first time Clemson’s had a player balance the two sports since Kyle Parker (2008-10) displayed his multitasking abilities. Besides, the MLB isn’t going anywhere and will be around in three or four years. Or maybe the NFL? Taylor hasn’t decided yet.
As far as the invaluable college experience, it’s everything he could’ve asked for.
“It’s been a blast, really, just from academics to athletics here at Clemson, and being able to play both sports here is going to be really special,” Taylor said. “So far, it’s been awesome.”
Will Taylor’s introduction to college football was against then fifth-ranked Georgia, now No. 2, in front of over 70,000 people at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. His first time in the game wasn’t at quarterback or wide receiver, but as a punt returner in the second quarter.
Taylor had added another position to his repertoire. While he’d played slot receiver as a freshman in high school and kept up with his routes, a special teams role was foreign territory.
Luckily for him, he had C.J. Spiller coaching him in special teams in the weeks prior. Whether it was Spiller, Swinney or offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, the freshman Tiger was well-equipped with everything he needed once the season began.
“We put in pretty much the whole playbook during camp,” Taylor said. “From knowing nothing at the beginning to everything at the end, they just did a great job. I think we went 16 straight days or something like that. Mentally and physically it was tough, but they did a great job of just preparing us. I didn’t really know I was doing a whole lot of special teams until about a week before the Georgia game. So it kind of caught me by surprise, but I was ready for the moment.”
After two games, Taylor has 73 all-purpose yards, which included a 51-yard punt return, tight-roping the sideline and evading multiple defenders in the Tigers’ 49-3 win over S.C. State last weekend. He’s earned the nickname “Maverick” from Elliott a couple of weeks ago in reference to Tom Cruise’s character in the movie “Top Gun.”
“Maverick seems like a very confident guy, so I like that,” Taylor said.
Baseball’s fall camp starts on Friday, so he’ll have to divide his time, which is easier than he originally thought. He’s been able to get in the batting cages a couple times a week already and will shift 100% to baseball once he can. Football will be the focus for now, though.
Swinney’s mined diamond is starting to shine.
“He’s a great leader having played quarterback for so long,” Swinney said of Taylor. “Really understands the game from a big picture standpoint, so he’s just a good young player to get going here on our team that I think, when it’s all said and done, going to have a heckuva career here.”