NEW ORLEANS — Stephon Taylor spent the first several years of his life in the heart of SEC country.
The small town of Valley, Ala., which sits just off I-85 near the Georgia border, is about a 45-minute drive from Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Taylor, however, rolled with the Crimson Tide. He maintained that allegiance when his family moved to New Orleans just before his 11th birthday. The move came a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina — Taylor’s stepdad, a New Orleans native, ended up in Valley after he was displaced by the storm.
“As people were telling me it was a bad city, a bad place, it wasn’t as bad as they said it was,” Taylor said. “If you’re around the right people, you’ll normally be alright.”
Things worked out just fine.
The four-star defensive tackle met with SECCountry.com at McDonogh 35 High School earlier this spring to talk about his future in Columbia after he signed with South Carolina. At the time, he was a couple of weeks into the physical therapy for his surgically repaired shoulder. Now, two months removed from the procedure, Taylor is on campus and enrolled at South Carolina.
Instability surrounding the Texas coaching staff played a big part in Taylor’s decision to sign with the Gamecocks.
“I could go to Texas, I could play at Texas. Everything would be the same at Texas,” he said. “But would Charlie Strong be there?”
Plus, Taylor felt comfortable with South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who he first got to know during an unofficial visit to Auburn.
“I trust his coaching skills,” Taylor said. “Not just his coaching skills, but his all-around skills, not just his skills with the players, but his skills on the field. Off the field, he’s disciplined. He’s a great guy. I love him.”
Before making the move, his only trip to South Carolina’s campus was in the winter, when he took an official visit.
“The campus, the dorm rooms, everything was on point,” Taylor said. “Other schools, they have the same things, high-priced dorm rooms, but that’s a great environment there. I think it was a great choice. Great environment, great coaches, a place to get developed (and) a place I can leave with a degree.”
McDonogh 35 defensive coordinator Frank Daggs said South Carolina has added a complete defensive tackle.
“He’s a run-stopper,” Daggs said. “He can run sideline-to-sideline, chase plays down, he can pass rush at times, get to the quarterback, he’s got an all-around game.”
There was a time, however, when Daggs and the McDonogh coaches had to convince Taylor that he was a football player.
“Eighth grade, he came out, then (in) ninth grade, he didn’t want to play,” Daggs said. “He thought he was a basketball player. He thought he was an AAU hooper and wanted to go here and go there.
“In the 10th grade, he played (football). He still thought he was a basketball player at times during the summer. Eleventh grade, he really got his mind right. Last summer, 11th grade going into 12th grade, he realized, ‘I have offers for football, but no offers for basketball.’ So he concentrated and did what he had to do.”
McDonogh 35 head coach Wayne Reese believes Taylor can “do anything he wants to do.” Taylor was rated the No. 29 defensive tackle in the country in the Class of 2016, and is one of four 4-star recruits in this group for the Gamecocks.
“It’s just up to Stephon,” Reese said. “He can be the greatest guy at that position. He can play other positions, too. He can play offense and defense, everything. He was the top guy for us, for a long time.
“It’s all up to Stephon. He has ability. He just has to do what the coaches tell him to do. I think he’ll be a great asset to the program at South Carolina.”