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"He really likes to hit people"

Devin Taylor made the decision to return to school for his senior season at South Carolina and it gives the Gamecocks an All-American force at defensive end. There’s a lot more to Taylor, though, aside from his being a pass-rush freak. Sylvia Cuyler, Devin’s mother, spoke with TheBigSpur.com’s Justin King about her son both on and off the field.

How was Devin was as a child growing up?

A lot of people don’t realize it, but growing up Devin was always a practical joker…a huge prankster…he just loved playing jokes on people as a child. I considered him a very “energetic” child growing up. He was always running and jumping around; he never held still.

One of his favorite things to do as a child was to ride his bicycle. He would go outside in the morning and ride all day long until I would make him come inside to eat. He didn’t just ride the bike either… he was always building ramps or digging ditches to jump over. It was never enough for him to just ride around. He had to take it up another notch.

Once, when Devin was three or four years old, I built a swing on a tall tree using rope and wood. We lived in a little cul-de-sac in the country and knew all of our neighbors, so I went inside the house for three minutes thinking he would be safe. When I came out he wasn’t on the swing anymore! I ran all around calling his name; went to all the neighbors’ houses and was just yelling as loud as I could. Then I glanced over and saw the swing moving. I looked up and Devin had scaled the rope- about twenty feet tall - and was sitting there laughing.

Something a lot of people don’t know about Devin is that he was born with a deformity on his right leg. It was sort of bowled out. For a while his foot was curved almost completely up to his ankle and he had to wear a special brace to fix it. It made it very difficult for him to walk growing up…and it was actually easier for him to run. He wouldn’t trip and fall over his foot when he was running so that was how he always preferred to get around.

Devin has always been very smart. In the 7th grade he was one of seven kids total who scored above a 700 on the SAT. He was in Duke University’s Gifted and Talented Program, was a Junior Scholar, was listed in the “Who’s Who Book of High School Scholars”, was invited to attend the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) and the Lead America Youth Leadership Conference. He was also a Cub Scout, graduated to Boy Scouts, and stopped when he made Eagle Scout.

What type of challenges did Devin face growing up? How did those challenges teach him and how did he overcome them?

A lot of the challenges Devin faced were not only physical, but mental. When he was seven or eight years old a situation came up when he was playing baseball. Devin was the only African-American on the team and, prior to that year, he had been picked multiple times for the All-Star team. On this team he found himself sitting on the bench for most of the game though. I was mad about it, but I took it in stride; plus he didn’t really seem to react to it too strongly.

One day though, he got in the car and asked “Mom, why does the coach not let me play? I know I am better than all the other kids. I can run faster, I can field better, I always make plays…so why won’t coach play me?” I told him that being in this situation he was going to have to be twice as good as all of the other kids on the team; he was going to have to work three times harder to be seen. He sat back and was quiet for a while, then said, “well…I guess I am just going to work three times harder than everyone else then.

Devin also faced the challenge of having an older sister – Demeka - who was very athletic and was bigger than him for a number of years. He was always trying to compete with her at everything. One day they were outside playing basketball and Devin came into the house crying. I asked him what was wrong, he said “I’m mad because I can never get the ball from Demeka! She is so much bigger and is always pushing me off!” I told him “Devin, you’re smaller but quicker! Use your speed and steal the ball!”. He thought about that and went back outside. A little while later he came in laughing and said “Now she can’t catch me!

Devin didn’t start out playing football; he actually started playing soccer, which he excelled at. His first year on the soccer team they won the “championship” for most victories and he got his first trophy. The next year we discovered that there was a football league for young kids and he wanted to try out. The day I took him out there I saw all the kids I told him “Devin, if you don’t want to do this you don’t have to.” He just looked at me and said “No, I wanna try.”

It was about his fourth practice when I realized he had a talent. He got in the car afterwards and started explaining to me what every position does and what they are responsible for. He talked to me about his position and how he was figuring out how to read the plays. I was shocked how fast he was picking up the game!

Funny story; because Devin was really tall, his coach thought he was older. I didn’t realize until a few weeks after he started playing football that he was playing with the eleven and twelve year old kids… when he was just ten! Even after Devin’s coach realized his actual age he kept him in that group because Devin was so good. His first position was left guard, then he moved to linebacker. Devin always got assigned to the biggest kid on the other team because he could hit and tackle. That was when I started to realize he likes to hit people.

Devin has a reputation of being a quiet individual and letting his play speak for itself. This is especially unusual for someone who plays one of the more aggressive positions on the field. Where did that attitude come from?

I’ve always been a sideline coach with Devin and told him I do not want to see a “turkey strut”. I told him he is to go in there and do everything he can to help win the game, but once you get off the field there is never to be any showboating; act like you’ve known how to do this for a long time.

As far as Devin being a quiet individual…I think he learned that as a child. Growing up he was always afraid of adults and didn’t like to talk to them unless he had to. He would hide behind my legs as a whenever someone new would come around until I made him introduce himself. That fear came from a bad experience with a babysitter when Devin was about two. It affected him a lot…there were people in church who didn’t even realize he could talk until he was in a play when he was ten years old. It didn’t have an effect on him with kids his own age though, just adults.

Devin is who he is though; he doesn’t always feel a need to express himself vocally. I’ve always told him you don’t need to be a loud showboat, just let your actions speak for you.

Lets talk about the recruiting process. What was that like for you and Devin? What made him choose South Carolina? What are some of the best and worst memories?

I remember the first time we realized Devin had a chance to play college football. I was at work one day and his coach – Coach Hatcher – called and said “I’ve got something to tell you, do you have access to a computer?” Then he directed me to a Clemson site, I believe it was TigerIllustrated.com. I saw they had written an article on “Lower State Sleepers” and Devin was listed! It was a really nice article and after that the phone calls started to pour in.

I kept everything controlled with the recruiting process. All the coaches knew that if they wanted to talk to Devin, they had to come through me. I didn’t want it to interrupt his school. I tried to make it so he didn’t feel pressure to talk to everyone, do everything right, and please everybody.

We had a plan for what criteria a school would have to meet in order for Devin to consider it. First it had to be no further north than Virginia and no farther west than Alabama. I didn’t want him going to a school that takes two or three days for me to get to in case something happened.

The next step was to make sure they had a good engineering program. It needed to be a school where Devin could get the degree he wanted. It was also important to me that whatever school Devin picked had a strict discipline program in place for athletes who didn’t feel like they had to go to class. I didn’t think Devin would ever do that but I wanted to be safe.

It ended up coming down to Carolina and Virginia Tech. We looked at both of them and they were fairly equal; Devin said he loved the coaches at both schools, loved the actual schools themselves. The reason he chose Carolina was because he felt like Virginia Tech was already winning its share of championships. He said he wanted a school that is competing, but just needs a couple more players to get over the hump. That is why he chose South Carolina; he wanted to go somewhere he could make a real difference.

Best/worst recruiting experiences

The best experience we had was probably when we went to Duke and got to meet Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski). We got to go down to his underground office to meet and talk to him. Devin and I were trying to get him to say that if Devin went to Duke he could play basketball too, but he never really committed to that. Duke wasn’t where he really wanted to go anyway. Devin said he didn’t want to wake up on Saturday morning battered and bruise and not winning very much.

The worse experience we had was at Clemson. At that time we didn’t really realize the intensity of the rivalry, so this was just pure experience. We were driving to the school and we ended up getting lost because the recruiter gave us poor directions. We couldn’t find where the athletic department was. I gave the recruiter a call and told him we were lost and his tone of voice got really harsh. He told us to drive to the stadium and he would come get us. We parked and were standing around and he drove by two or three times looking. Devin got really upset and said, “He must not even know who I am.” I told Devin we were going to leave, but right then the recruiter stopped and told Devin to hop in the car with him and I could follow. It was raining outside so we were in the athletic building and the whole time we were walking around none of the coaches even said anything to us; no greeting, no welcome, nothing.

Devin recently announced he plans to return for his senior year saying “"I still have some things I'd like to accomplish at Carolina before I go on to the next level." What did he mean by that? What other factors played into his decision to stay?

When Devin was being recruited, Coach Spurrier told him “We are starting to play our game around here. All we need is a few more good players in place to win a championship.” He said to Devin “I would love to do it with you here, but if you decide not to come here it will still happen.

Devin wanted a school that he could help make a difference at; that he could help win championships at. He wants to be able to say “The year when South Carolina won that championship, I was a part of that.” “I think Devin wanted to come back because he really believes South Carolina can win a championship. He isn’t playing football for the money; he just wants to play a sport that he loves. He wanted another year without the pressures and hassles of football being a full-time job. Devin wants to work for something that matters, something that has real meaning. After he announced his decision I asked him if he has a career ending injury would he regret this decision and he said “no.” He also told me “We’ve got players in the right spot that can make a difference…players are working together.

What do you do as a parent to help Devin succeed? Do you have anything you like to do pre-game to help get him ready?

Devin can’t have his phone the day of a game so I usually send him some inspirational text messages the day before. I’ll just sit down and pray and whatever comes to me I’ll send to him; things like: “When you run out of energy and strength, play with heart…because heart will never let you down.” There are times when he asks me where I get some of the messages I send him from and I tell him I just feel inspiration inside!

I always spend some time praying for his safe keeping before a game. I always pray that God will protect him from any injuries and I always remind him to thank God for the blessings already bestowed upon him.

Who is Devin Taylor outside of the football player? What are some of the things he enjoys in life?

If Devin wasn’t playing football in college he would be playing basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, or some other sport. He was so good at all of them growing up. He actually got a few offers to play basketball!

Outside of sports he would be an engineer. He loves taking things apart. I’ve got stuff lying all around my house he has disassembled and then forgotten to put back together! He also talks about becoming a programmer.

I’ve heard Devin is a pretty good fisherman as well as mud racer. How did he get into that?

He loves to fish, he loves to roller skate and go water rafting, and he loves to go ice-skating. He is just a very active individual. His Godparents – Billy and Terry Powell – have two sons and the oldest is Devin’s best friend. He was the one who introduced Devin to mud racing. They would build truck engines and use them to race. I guess that is probably where his drive to become an engineer comes from. He learned a lot from those experiences.

His fishing experience probably came from going out with my brother, Lloyd. Lloyd would take Devin and Demeka out to the dock to go fishing when they were growing up. One time Devin came home and told me that Lloyd fell asleep while holding his fishing pole and hooked a fish, but couldn’t bring it up in time because he didn’t wake up. He asked Devin and Demeka why they didn’t wake him and they looked at each other and said, “You didn’t tell us to! Besides…we caught our fish!

After that Devin was always asking my brother to take him out fishing, he just loves it. Billy Powell used to take him deep sea fishing too and that was something else he couldn’t get enough of. I guess he finds it calming.

What is something Devin has taught you?

Devin taught me patience. He taught me tolerance. He showed me how important it is to never underestimate anyone; especially him. Sometimes growing up I didn’t give him the credit he deserved. In high school the coaches wanted to move him up to varsity when he was only in 9th grade and I said he wasn’t ready. Then in 12th grade Devin was running track and I didn’t want him to do the triple jump because I heard it could mess up his legs. The track meets were typically during the week so I couldn’t go, but I found out he was doing the triple jump anyway because I would open the paper and always see that he was either winning it or coming inches behind the winner! Then he went to state and sure enough he won state in the triple jump. The whole time I was thinking he couldn’t and shouldn’t do it. He showed me.”

Now when he tells me his is ready to play, I know he is ready.

5 fan questions

Aaron Burr Cock: how hard was it to find clothes to fit your son growing up?

Devin was always skinny and always tall. When he was growing up I had to buy pants for him in a size larger than he actually was so the legs would be long enough. He needed to tie a belt really tight around his waist so they wouldn’t fall down! I would have to drive to Savannah or Charleston if I wanted to find clothes or a suit that actually fit him. The arms and legs were never long enough. It was not easy.

Jrobb: Do you ever feel sorry for the opposing team’s QB?

I wish I could say yes…but I can’t. I am always on the sideline screaming ‘GET HIM!” I always want a sack.

The only time I ever did feel slightly bad was at the last Clemson game. Tajh Boyd was on his back almost the whole game. It was because of his Twitter comment. All the players went over and had something to say to him about that. Even Devin got his in.” (Editor’s Note: Tajh Boyd reportedly tweeted that the USC defensive line was “average”. That Tweet was quickly deleted so it couldn’t never be confirmed he said it.)

WoCo: What has been your most memorable moment of Devin's football career as a Gamecock?

The NC State Game Devin’s first year playing. He went in and forced a fumble on his first play that led to the only touchdown of the game. It was amazing and I will always remember that.

Bulldog98: From a parent's point of view, what do you like most about the school and about the football program?

I love the fact that there is a parents’ association that actually gives new parents who have players coming in help with what to expect for their child. I love how they have a team-parent group where we get together and help out the other parents who come in. You actually get to take them by the hand and teach them what to expect, what to do, how to get around. The first year Devin was there that didn’t exist so I was a little lost…now I try extra hard to make sure all the new parents have help with anything they need.

I also love how open the coaching staff is. I am very familiar with Coach Brad Lawing. Communication is really there. He knows that I am very serious about my child and he will call me directly if there is ever a problem. All of the coaches show that they really care about your child.

I am definitely not disappointed in Devin’s choice to go to Carolina. I still love the noise of the stadium, I love how much the fans support the team through thick or thin; they aren’t fair weather fans. I love that.

Surfincock: What is the funniest story you remember of Devin when he was growing up?

When Devin was about 16 I caught him in a lie. I don’t remember exactly what he lied about, but I said to him “Devin…you just lied to me!” I told him he had his choice of punishments. He could either lose all electronics for a month, or he could tape an embarrassing note to his shirt that said, “I lied to my mom” and walk from the house about a mile down the street in front of all the neighbors. Honestly, I thought there was no way he would choose the sign and embarrass himself like that…I almost said it as a joke.

So Devin goes into his room and a few minutes later he comes out and he has a big sign taped to him that said “I lied to my mom” and he even put on a hat and had a sign taped to his hat that said the same thing! Then he walked outside and I watched him walk all the way down the street and back. I was laughing so hard I was almost in tears.

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