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Clemson dual-sport athlete Will Taylor doesn’t miss a beat in return from ACL | Clemson

CLEMSON — Dutch Fork baseball coach Casey Waites knew better. But when he saw Will Taylor within earshot at Segra Park, stepping back onto correct field for another lap before the game, Waites couldn’t resist calling out “Willy T.”

“He knows my voice,” Waites said, “but he didn’t even hear me.”

It’s classic Willy-T behavior, so consumed with the task at hand that no one else exists in those moments. Ahead of a midweek game with the College of Charleston – just Taylor’s fourth in a Clemson uniform – he put on a serious expression. Even with family and friends in the Columbia stands, Taylor’s mind was on the process of preparing his body.

That laser focus helps explain how the freshman was able to return 46 games in a season after spending seven months recovering from an ACL injury in football and opening in his first week of play against the Division I with a batting average of over .300 pitching.

Taylor was nicknamed “Maverick” during the Tigers’ football season because the 5-10, 170-pound playmaker was cool and confident like Tom Cruise’s character in the Top Gun franchise. But it’s baseball where Taylor has always had the most potential, and turned down a chance to be selected in the first round in last year’s MLB draft to join Clemson and play two sports.

Speaking of “The Legend of Willy T,” Waites recounts tales of a five-tool prospect whose blood pressure seems to drop when the pushiest moments come, like when he hit two homers against Lexington to win a 2021 regional title. He’s So process oriented, Taylor can be as consumed stretching as he is batting in the batter’s box.

So it wasn’t too surprising that Taylor completely shut down a pregame call for “Willy T” from the stands. However, it was just as revealing when Taylor broke character just minutes later, just before the national anthem.

His head turned to the grandstand. His eyes found Waites, which earned him a grin.

“You rarely see him smile,” Waites said. “I guess he went through it and he’s happy to be back. He looked at me and gave me that smile.”

Taylor took over the field and scored 2 for 6 that day. He hit a run, just as he had in every game of a Georgia Tech three-game sweep last weekend.

The coaches, who understand Taylor’s talent, are delighted to see him back on track so seamlessly as it was hard to see him derail. Clemson baseball coach Monte Lee took it easy that fall, saying he would watch football games and do laps on the couch to relieve tension while Taylor snapped shots. Waites watched the Boston College game on Oct. 2 because Taylor’s hometown learned his role was expanding. Plays were installed for Taylor this week.

A three-star footballer hopeful who defied expectations by opening the season when Clemson’s punt returner went one-for-one against a Boston College linebacker on a receiver sweep to the left. Taylor tried to juke, but his right leg gave out.

Lee’s worst fears came true. Waites was disappointed, but his stomach wasn’t as twisted as you think.

“We have a saying, when he does things, the legend of Willy T is being written, chapter by chapter, moment by moment,” Waites said. “I thought he would find his way back as soon as possible. Once again there is another chapter in the legend.”

That’s not to underestimate the adversity Taylor had to overcome because Waites knows she was there. His paths with Taylor crossed on the sidelines of a Dutch Fork football game in November. The intensity behind his normally laser-focused expression was somewhat absent as Taylor sat on a bench between quarters. He couldn’t do much, which of course wasn’t easy for a successful multi-sport athlete.

It’s the only time Waites has seen Taylor like this.

The switch was undoubtedly flipped when Willy T returned to Clemson to speed up his rehab. Just like he did in Dutch Fork when he arrived in a batting cage with a few dozen MLB scouts willing to watch, Taylor has a way of speaking up when it matters most. It would have been a surprise if Taylor couldn’t hit the moment his Clemson baseball debut arrived.

After a seven-month wait, Taylor was more than prepared. Lee described him as “thrilled” when he arrived at Doug Kingsmore Stadium on May 6 to face the Yellow Jackets. “When he got to the stadium it was just the intensity, with his body language in BP and in the cages,” Lee said, “you can tell he’s a football player.”

But everyone was quickly reminded of Taylor’s baseball skills. In his first college at-bat, Taylor shot a single down the middle of the infield. It was almost unfair, as Clemson was caught stealing in the batter’s box midway through Taylor’s first turn, giving him a chance to see a few pitches before returning to the plate in the next inning.

“It was very exciting. I hadn’t felt that excitement in about seven months,” Taylor said, giving a quick grin before returning to his characteristically serious expression. “It’s good to be back out there and hopefully we’ll move on .”

Taylor finished 4 of 13 (.308) on his debut weekend, scoring three runs and driving in another. After proving he was ready for the moment, the freshman outfielder was quickly promoted to #2 in Clemson’s order.

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He didn’t lose a step. In fact, Taylor has been told that he actually runs faster than he did before the injury.

Remarkable, for some, but not so much for an athlete whom Waites considers incomparable to others he coaches, particularly in terms of maturity and just the purity of his competitive spirit. There’s no doubt Taylor wants to compete at the highest level, but he would have had to turn down an opportunity to play football at Clemson to be a first-round pick in last year’s MLB draft.

“I think he wants to do it on his terms,” ​​Waites said. “Most people in his position say, ‘I should do this because there’s so much money at stake. Let’s jump.’ He wants to compete on his terms. I get the question what does he like more, I think he’s a baseball guy. But he also likes to play soccer. He loves playing for (Dabo) Swinney.”

Taylor was somewhat deprived of opportunities that college year and got away with about a month’s worth of games in both football and baseball. But there’s still more time to add the legend of Willy T, as Waites calls it.

Next football season, Taylor will make a full transition from gadget quarterback and return specialist to slot receiver. In the meantime, he has a chance to add a much-needed racquet to Clemson’s lineup at the track that could be as rust-free as possible given the circumstances.

“He’s definitely a dynamic athlete,” Lee said. “As one of the most talented players in the country, it would certainly have been great to have had him all year. But I’m not a big wanna-could-should guy. I’m glad we have him now.”

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