Freshman’s do-whatever-it-takes-attitude has earned him the nickname ‘Maverick’
When high level wide receivers and quarterbacks come to Dabo Swinney’s high school camps, Tony Elliott rarely gets to see them. He is working with the running backs or tight ends on a different field.
“I don’t get to see all the quarterbacks and the pretty wideouts running around,” Clemson’s offensive coordinator said Monday, as the sixth-ranked Tigers get set to host Georgia Tech Saturday in their ACC opener at Death Valley.
So, Elliott had to hear second hand about this rising junior from Irmo, South Carolina that Dabo Swinney moved from the quarterback group to the wide receivers’ group in the summer of 2019. Swinney wanted to see what Will Taylor could do at receiver, and the Dutch Fork High School product did not disappoint.
“I was kind of blown away by him in camp,” Swinney said. “I told Jeff Scott, just kind of keep him on ice, nobody is going to know about him.”
Elliott said Taylor was all the coaches could talk about in that camp. They were amazed by how electric he was at wide receiver, especially considering all he had ever played was quarterback.
“Obviously, you can watch him on film, and you say, ‘Man, he is a good player.’ But until you see it in person, and what you don’t know is just how tough of a young man he is,” Elliott said.
Taylor showed off his toughness against S.C. State this past Saturday. After fielding a punt at the Clemson 33-yard line, he made a couple of guys miss before racing the ball up the far sideline. As he got to midfield, an S.C. State player tried to unload on the freshman.
But Taylor had none of it.
Taylor bounced right off the would-be-tackler and continued up the sideline until he was finally brought down at the Bulldogs’ 16.
“What you saw on that punt return is he took a shot, kept his balance and it did not faze him. He was trying to go score,” Elliott said.
That toughness, along with his bravado, led Elliott to give Taylor the nickname, “Maverick,” the nickname of Tom Cruise’s character Pete Mitchell in the 1986 movie Top Gun. Maverick was an F-14 Tomcat pilot for the United States Navy.
“He’s got that feistiness to him. That edge to him. I think he likes it too,” Elliott said. “That is what I didn’t know about him just because I was not heavy involved in the process. [Brandon] Streeter, [Tyler] Grisham and Jeff kind of handled that for the most part.
“But man, he provides a spark. And what I think he has done, too, is that he has garnered the respect of everyone in that locker room.”
Freshman wideout Beaux Collins said Taylor earned his respect when he first saw Taylor come out for skills-and-drills workouts this summer.
“His speed is unmatched,” Collins said. “The first time we came out in skills-and-drills, it is like a player-led practice, he was out playing wideout. That was my first time seeing him do anything and he ran some route, I forgot, but the separation he had from the DB, I was blown away by it.
“I did not think he was that fast. But I would just say, his speed overall is just mind blowing.”
So far, Taylor has returned punts, played quarterback and has been the “Wildcat” guy when the Tigers lineup in that formation. He had a 19-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat Formation in the first quarter against S.C. State. However, the play was negated due to an illegal block in the back call on wide receiver Joseph Ngata.
Taylor will also play baseball this coming Spring for Clemson. And he isn’t just any baseball player. He supposedly turned down a few million dollars to come play football and baseball for the Tigers.
“He could have been a top 10 or 15 (overall) pick in (the MLB Draft) but he wants to come play football,” Elliott said.
Taylor came into the locker room with some challenges to overcome, but he immediately dispelled all the baseball stuff and showed he is a football player and will do whatever it takes to earn their trust.
“You can just tell that he has that presence to him. That the moment is not too big,” Elliott said. “He is a quarterback. So, he is used to touching the ball on every single snap.”
In other words, Taylor is a Maverick, and will do whatever it takes to get the job done.