Nearly 11 months later, the ending was a vastly different one for Will Taylor.
On his final play of the 2021 football season, Clemson’s redshirt freshman receiver went down in a heap after injuring his right knee against Boston College in early October. An MRI later confirmed a torn ACL for Taylor, whose first season as a Tiger lasted just five games.
On Monday night, Taylor was back.
Taylor, a two-sport standout for the Tigers, returned from his injury this spring with the baseball team, but Clemson’s season opener against Georgia Tech was his first time playing a football game in nearly a year. Taylor didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but that wasn’t the point.
“It was a very special moment for me and my family,” Taylor said. “It’s been a long 10-month process. For me, it was just great to be out there and compete at a high level. More than anything, just thankful to be out there healthy and to be able to do what I love most.”
Taylor’s parents were in attendance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they watched Taylor do the things he used to before the injury. That included returning punts and catching passes, specifically touchdowns.
Taylor, playing behind junior Brannon Spector in the slot, finished with just two receptions for 23 yards, but his return went out on a high. Taylor, who played without the knee brace he sported for much of preseason camp, got most of his reps at receiver in the second half of the Tigers’ 41-10 victory and was Cade Klubnik’s go-to target on the Tigers’ final possession, hauling in both of his catches on the drive.
The final one was a 3-yard touchdown grab on a rub route similar to the one former Clemson star Hunter Renfrow caught from Deshaun Watson to clinch the 2017 national championship game for the Tigers. It was also the first touchdown catch of Taylor’s career, one Taylor and those close to him cherished a little bit more.
“My family was there,” he said. “Just for them to be able to see me go through the whole process was special. Got to talk to them after the game. They were very proud. Just a special moment for me and my parents.”
Taylor acknowledged doubt crept into his mind when he initially sustained the injury about whether or not he could be the same player once he recovered. He said he talked to both current and former Clemson players who suffered the same injury to get a sense of how they approach their recoveries. They included Green Bay Packers receiver Amari Rodgers, who was a first-team All-ACC selection as a senior in 2020 after tearing his ACL a year earlier.
Ultimately, Taylor said the hardest part of working his way back was learning to trust the process.
“But each day of the recovery process, I could just feel myself getting a little bit more confident and a little bit better each and every day,” Taylor said. “Now I’m good to go and have no doubt at all.”
That includes whether or not he believes he can still be the same speedy, shifty receiver that Clemson signed out of Dutch Fork High School nearly two years ago.
“Now I feel like I’m more explosive than ever,” he said.
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