Sam Houston State safety Darnell Taylor stands ready to slow down North Dakota State’s offense when he steps onto the field for Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivision title game in Frisco.
Taylor’s twin brother, Darius, won’t be far away. That usually means double trouble.
The Taylor twins have contributed heavily to the Bearkats’ 14-0 season, helping Sam Houston State produce the FCS’s top rushing defense (69.9 yards per game) and No. 2 scoring defense (14.8 points per game). Darnell, an FCS All-American, is the team’s leader in tackles with 118 to go with three sacks and nine tackles for loss. Darius, a reserve linebacker, is third in tackles with 78 and has nine tackles for loss and two interceptions.
On Saturday, they’ll each have a chance to showcase their talents on the biggest stage.
“It’s a dream come true,” Darnell said.
The Taylors faced a difficult decision in 2009 that could have ended with them going their separate ways or choosing to play together at a Division II program if Sam Houston State hadn’t stepped forward with a dual scholarship offer.
They’re glad it never came to that.
“Our goal in life was to play Division I football,” Darnell said. “Sam Houston State gave us an opportunity, and we ran with it.”
From the time they were six years old, hardly anything could come between twin brothers Darnell and Darius Taylor and football.
Even as their senior seasons at Mesquite High School came to a close, they knew what they were going to do next. Wherever they were going to play football, no matter at what level, the Taylors were going there together.
“That was the plan coming out of high school, to play together,” Bearkats junior linebacker Darius Taylor said.
The Taylors received early offers from various Division II schools such as Abilene Christian, and a few from FBS (Kent State) and FCS (South Dakota State) programs that would have either split them up or sent them far from home.
But the old adage of being better late than never came true as Sam Houston State came calling a few weeks before signing day and provided the twins exactly what they were looking for and they found a place where they could stick together and the Sam Houston defense has reaped the benefits.
“Sam came late. It was about two weeks before signing day and they came and told us that they’d give us a chance to play together,” Darius Taylor said. “We took it. Ever since we came on a visit, we’ve loved it here.”
Darnell started 10 games as a true freshman in 2009, and Darius played sparingly. The two continued to progress in 2010 under first-year coach Willie Fritz and both began the 2011 season as regulars in the rotation.
Darnell was this year’s Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team selection, and Darius was an All-SLC honorable mention.
Now Sam Houston is facing off with North Dakota State in the NCAA Division I National Championship Game Saturday at 12 noon at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco
“The thing that’s really neat about it is that these are two guys that really love playing football. I would say their greatest characteristic among both of them is they’re both very tough and competitive besides being very good athletes,” Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said.
“They’ve got excellent strength for their position. They’ve both got good size and very good speed. We play them in a lot of different areas, not just on defense. They’re both really involved in the kicking game. I’ve seen marked improvement out of them in the short time that I’ve been here. They’re two very competitive guys.”
Both players have earned Southland Conference “Defensive Player of the Week” honors this season.
“I feel the sky is the limit for us. We have good, young linebackers and a good secondary and a great defensive line,” junior safety Darnell Taylor said.
In their third season at the college level, not much has changed for the Taylors as far as football goes.
“I’ve played with him my whole life. It’s just the same as it was in high school,” Darnell Taylor said. “He played linebacker in high school and I was a safety. It’s the same, really. It’s just a step up.”
From playing together for so long, when Darnell and Darius Taylor are both on the field at the same time, they know they can rely on each other as they have different perspectives based on what the opponent’s offense is trying to do.
“He helps me out sometimes and I know, as a free safety, I can help them out with routes and stuff like that,” the junior safety said.
“I know I can count on him at the end of the day. I know he’s going to give his all and that I know he’s going to do what he needs to do,” Darius Taylor chimed in.