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The Timesland athlete gave up wrestling to try football.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Brandon Taylor listens as offensive line coach Jeff Grimes (right) offers instruction during spring football practice at Virginia Tech.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
BLACKSBURG — Brandon Taylor was looking for a hobby to fill some free time during his freshman year at Virginia Tech.
The 2012 first-team All-Timesland wrestler decided that picking up an acoustic guitar or the latest video game just wasn’t going to cut it.
So Taylor decided he wanted to play football for the Hokies, and despite having spent just a single season — his junior year of high school — on the Christiansburg sideline, he walked on to the team and made the spring roster.
“Honestly, I did get a little bored just being a student. … I just wanted to try something different, and I knew since my heart wasn’t so much in wrestling, it’d be all right to go out for football,” Taylor said in a recent interview.
So far this spring, Taylor has worked at both the center and offensive tackle positions and is currently listed as third on the depth chart at left tackle.
On Saturday, he’s set to play in Tech’s annual Maroon-White spring game in Lane Stadium at 3 p.m. Taylor joins fellow 2012 Christiansburg graduates Brenden Motley and Zach Snell on the roster.
Growing up, Taylor was no stranger to wearing a helmet and shoulder pads. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder said he began playing football about the age of 7 but gave it up in high school to focus on wrestling.
After experiencing two years of a practice schedule he called “rigorous,” Taylor decided to take a break from the sport by spending the fall of his junior year playing for Tim Cromer’s Blue Demons football team.
“I just wanted to try something different and I thought it would be fun. And it was a lot of fun,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who at the time was listed at 6-4, 210 pounds, spent the season playing tight end and defensive end for Christiansburg’s 2010 team that went undefeated until losing to Harrisonburg, 28-21, in the Group AA Division 4 semifinals.
“I think he played a big part in that [season],” Cromer said of Taylor.
Though fun, when the season changed to wrestling, Taylor said he found himself lacking the physical conditioning he felt he needed to compete.
As he entered his senior year of high school, Taylor made the decision to give up football.
“Since wrestling was more important and I wanted a state title, I figured my best bet was to focus on that,” Taylor said.
That focus led Taylor to a 38-8 record in the 220-pound class during his senior season on the mats, including winning River Ridge District, Region IV, and Big Blue Tournament titles before falling 3-1 in the Group AA final against Brookville’s Victor Montalbano.
Taylor said he had several options to wrestle at the collegiate level, but debated whether he wanted to take on more years of the rigorous schedule that came with the sport.
In the spring of 2012 Taylor was accepted to Tech and said he initially planned to attend as simply a student, with the intention of putting his wrestling days behind him.
By summer, however, his mind had changed and Taylor began working out with the Hokies wrestling team.
With a natural weight of 220 pounds, Taylor said he struggled with the decision to either cut enough weight to wrestle in the 197-pound class or bulk up enough to be competitive in the 285-pound class. Taylor said the struggle took a toll and in part made him lose his desire to continue wrestling.
“I guess I’d been doing it my whole life and was just kind of burnt out on it. I wasn’t enjoying it like I did in high school and I didn’t see any point in doing it if I was just kind of going through the motions,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he walked away from the Tech wrestling team just before the team’s roster was being finalized in October. He filled his newfound free time by helping his former coach, Daryl Weber, coach the 2012-2013 Christiansburg wrestling squad and also began working out with a personal trainer, which he said helped him bulk up to his current 260 pounds.
While Taylor was attempting to guide the Christiansburg wrestlers, many of the wrestlers’ parents were attempting to guide him, he said.
“I was almost leaning back towards trying wrestling again, because I’d gotten bigger...but people kept telling me, ‘You’ve got the size, or at least potential size, for football,’ ” Taylor said.
In March he decided to give college football a shot. Taylor said his father used some mutual connections he had with Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster to gain Taylor a spot in the March 20, 7 a.m. tryout held in Rector Field House.
Taylor estimated about 30 other players were at the tryout and said their first assignment was to run a timed 40-yard dash. Immediately afterward, Taylor said Tech head coach Frank Beamer approached him.
Beamer “asked me about wrestling in high school and what my record was and all that, so he seemed kind of interested in me,” Taylor said.
Later that day, Taylor said he received a phone call informing him that he would be on the spring roster.
Taylor isn’t the only player on Tech’s spring roster with a wrestling pedigree.
Senior offensive lineman Andrew Miller won two heavyweight state wrestling titles at Bassett High School and also wrestled for the Hokies during his freshman year.
“Wrestling really helps your balance, your center of gravity. You know how to use your hips,” Miller said, adding that “the main thing is it makes you tough. Having a wrestling background, you know how to push yourself to the limit.”
Though his wrestling background may help Taylor with the physical side of his new sport, the mental side of the game is one Tech offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said Taylor will have to work on.
“He’s very, very raw,” Grimes said. “I’ve seen a willingness to learn. I think he’s a guy who has some athletic ability, but just needs to learn the game, and we’ll see.”
Taylor admitted the learning curve has been the most difficult aspect of his transition.
“My biggest challenge ... the mental aspect of it as far as learning the plays and learning the footwork and the technique ... the knowledge of how the offense works,” Taylor said.
He also admitted he occasionally finds himself slipping back into the mentality of a wrestler.
“Every once in a while, when they’re pushing into me and I’m supposed to use technique ... I just want to throw them to their back,” Taylor said.
Taylor said his goals for his debut season were simple: make the team for the fall, get bigger and become an all-around better football player.
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