Virginia Tech's Bruce Taylor has tackled everything life has thrown at him

By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 2:36 PM

BLACKSBURG, VA. - Virginia Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor still wonders how his life would have turned out had he not moved away from a small town in South Georgia, where "if I wasn't related to you, I knew you."

Would he still be in Blacksburg, tied for the team lead in tackles as a redshirt sophomore, with the second-most tackles for loss in the ACC through five games?

"I don't know," Taylor admits. "I might be playing for Georgia."

These sorts of questions have existed throughout the 20-year-old's life, but instead of allowing them to derail his career, Taylor has simply adapted and forged ahead.

For the first six years of Taylor's life, his father, Bruce Taylor Sr., was in prison for robbery. Taylor's mother, Marcia Walker, and his grandmother raised him, and at age 10 he became the man of the house when his two older brothers moved out.

When Taylor was in sixth grade, his mother got married and moved the family from Hinesville, Ga., to South Carolina for a new job. The decision did not sit well with Taylor, who was upset he had to leave all his friends and did not react well to a new authority figure "coming in and taking all the attention away from me."

Said Walker: "I think the fact that him and his stepfather butted heads pretty much made him into who he is. Football was an outlet for him. I'm sure he took out some of his frustrations on the field. That's why he took a defensive position."

Coming into this spring, Taylor was supposed to be a reserve linebacker again, getting spot duty behind redshirt junior Barquell Rivers, one of the defense's few returning starters. But Rivers tore his quad last March, giving Taylor his opening. He hasn't looked back.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster named Taylor his unit's best player during training camp after the 6-foot-2, 246-pounder showed up in the best shape since he arrived on campus. Taylor did have a shaky season opener against Boise State, a game in which he was flagged for a costly late-hit penalty and had a missed tackle that allowed a long Broncos touchdown run, but otherwise "he's done everything I've asked if you take out two or three plays," said Foster, who is also Taylor's position coach. "Obviously every game has been a learning experience, but that's the best type of experience."

Only recently has Taylor begun to consider just how he's made such a quick transition to the starting lineup. He thinks back to the people and events that shaped his childhood.

"I can definitely see a relationship there. Things happen in life, things change, you gotta be able to adjust," said Taylor, who said he has re-established a relationship with his father and considers him a friend. "Barquell got hurt and I came in, so the whole defense had to adjust to a different linebacker. We're doing the same things as far as executing on the field, but it's just different. Different personality, what you're gonna get from that person, it's just a little different."

Taylor, though, has led the team in tackles three times already, and he's proven adept when Foster dials up a linebacker blitz, collecting three sacks and 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. In some ways, Taylor's emergence has made Rivers's injury an afterthought.

"Bruce came in like he was the guy already," said sophomore Lyndell Gibson, Taylor's friend and a starting outside linebacker the past two seasons. "There hasn't been any change from the plays being made at the [middle] linebacker spot."

By his own admission, Taylor is a "game speed guy," like when he chased down North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson from behind to prevent a first down in last Saturday's 41-30 Hokies victory. He says the last time he ran the 40-yard dash, he clocked in the 4.85-second range. But the only numbers that truly define Taylor are tackles - he had 544 his final three years at Myrtle Beach High while playing through an arm fracture, two shoulder surgeries and appendicitis at various times.

Recently, at Foster's behest, Taylor has frequently found himself in the film room comparing his tape to that of former Virginia Tech linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall when they were first thrust into the Hokies' starting lineup.

It's the coach's way of showing Taylor what he expects on the field, while also reassuring him that mistakes happened to the great ones as well. The lesson is to continue moving forward, something Taylor knows well.

"It's frustrating because early in the season, those plays I could have made were big plays for the team," Taylor said. "But it's also exciting because they messed up, too. If I can really focus now and get all that little stuff taken care of, making those stupid freshman, sophomore mistakes, I can just ball out my last two years. I didn't come here to just be another name, I want to make a name for myself."

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