No varsity experience? No problem for Roman's Taylor

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Roman Catholic's Manny Taylor. (Lou Rabito/Staff)

His size, 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, screams offensive lineman. But don't be fooled by that. Roman Catholic's Manny Taylor was an underdog when he attended the Big Man Academy camp at Rutgers a couple of months ago.

Many of the participants had accounts on the recruiting website hudl.com.

Taylor had none.

Many had videos touting the greatest hits and blocks from their varsity games.

Taylor had no video, because he had yet to play a varsity game.

"Yeah, it's weird," the senior said of attending the camp and four days later accepting a scholarship offer from Rutgers after having played zero snaps of varsity football.

"I look at guys out here now that have been playing all their lives and are still trying to get that offer. And I felt like I just went to a camp."

Taylor's case is unusual, said Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. But, Lemming said, a program such as Rutgers or Temple sometimes takes a chance on a player who has a lot of athletic ability and size for his position but little or no varsity experience.

Basketball was Taylor's sport through his freshman year, which he spent at Life Center in Burlington County, playing for former Louisville star Pervis Ellison. Taylor said that he didn't follow football much while going up, and that the variety of the sport he was most familiar with was the backyard, count-Mississippis style.

Ellison, though, saw something more than a basketball player in Taylor.

"My coach was telling me, 'Hey, out of all our AAU teams and all the high school teams, you're the only one with a football body, so you should be trying to play football,' " said Taylor, 17.

"And I was like, I don't know if I should play football, because that school didn't have football. . . . I just started watching football games and it started to pique my interest, and I told my mom, yeah, I want to play football."

Taylor, who lives in Abington, transferred to Roman Catholic and played varsity basketball and junior-varsity football as a sophomore and junior. Some of the skills that drew the attention of a handful of lower Division I basketball programs helped him on the football field: the long arms, the quick feet, the athleticism.

But Taylor learned quickly that he had to develop a different mind-set. Instead of looking to get airborne to block a shot, grab a rebound, or take a jumper, he had to grow accustomed to getting low in the trenches.

He also needed to increase his strength. He could bench-press only 135 pounds, he said, when he started with football. He has since doubled that max.

"I wasn't football strong," Taylor said. "Going against linemen, at first, they were just pushing me around, knocking me over, and I was like, man, I don't want to play this sport. Then I got in the weight room, my numbers started coming up, and things got a lot easier for me."

Still, having to learn the nuances of offensive-line play and develop more strength as well as a mean streak, Taylor was kept off the varsity those two seasons.

"It wouldn't have been fair to him because he wasn't ready," Cahillites coach Joe McCourt said. "When you have a kid who has the potential that he has, you don't want to lose him.

"So we kind of took baby steps with him. He just was not ready mentally, physically, and I didn't think he had the right attitude last year. This year, it's a complete 180."

This year, Taylor will start at right tackle on offense and fill in on the interior defensive line.

McCourt expects that Taylor will get a redshirt year as a freshman at Rutgers, and then perhaps need another season or two before making an impact.

"By the time that thing all clicks together and he's in a college program for three years, the lightbulb could click and you're talking about possibly a big-, big-, big-time football player," McCourt said. "And I'm talking not just playing on Saturdays - he could be playing on Sundays.

"Now, he's nowhere near that now. He's got a lot of work to do. But when you just see the tools that he has, the upside is through the roof."


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