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Behind the ball: Will Taylor on the road to Omaha

Kate Adent
Taylor rounds the bases for his third home run of the day against USC Upstate on Feb. 27.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone giving up Saturdays in Death Valley with a crowd 81,500-strong chanting your name — nevermind sacrificing the famed stroll past adoring fans through the Tiger Walk before kickoff or the prospect of lifting a college football national championship trophy over your head.

Giving up a Clemson football scholarship may sound absurd to many, but that is exactly what former two-sport athlete Will Taylor did.

“It was just a matter of time before I had to make a decision,” Clemson baseball’s starting left fielder remarked. While difficult, it was all for a goal bigger than himself. “We want to get back to Omaha,” he told The Tiger with a grin.

“And there’s no better opportunity right now than with this program.”

His drastic move has certainly paid off, as No. 5 Clemson (32-8, 13-5 ACC) is a projected regional host. The Tigers are not only one of the most talented teams in the NCAA but arguably the hungriest.

Under head coach Erik Bakich last season, the Tigers certainly looked set to go all the way to the championship as they rode a 17-game winning streak and hosted an NCAA regional. However, two narrow losses to Tennessee and Charlotte, both by a margin of two runs, “really left a mark in our books last year,” Taylor said.

Just one month later, he announced that he would be pursuing a baseball career full-time via social media.

During his childhood, Taylor showcased his versatility by playing any sport he could compete in. Pushed by his older sister Erin and little brother Paul, the Taylors spent countless hours competing outside their home in Irmo, South Carolina.

Taylor himself took the town by storm in high school, winning state titles in football and track and three individual titles as a wrestler. Baseball was always Taylor’s specialty as a top-40 prospect in high school; many scouts even expected to hear his name called in the first round of the 2021 MLB draft.

Taylor, however, wanted to create his own legacy, telling potential employers that he’d be pursuing collegiate opportunities in lieu of professional aspirations.

Then, a stellar outing at one of Dabo Swinney’s recruiting camps changed everything, and Taylor was offered a scholarship in September 2020. Two weeks later, he signed his letter of intent for the Tigers.

Despite all the ringing in his ear about money and fame, Taylor knew what was best for him: following in the footsteps of a family legend.

“A big, impactful person that had a lot to do with my decision was my grandfather. He really gave me the dream to play two sports in college,” he said.

Ralph Edward Taylor Sr. graduated from The Citadel in 1964, playing both football and baseball for the Bulldogs. After retirement, his favorite thing to do was coach different sports for his children and, eventually, grandchildren, fostering Taylor’s love for the game.

When Tayor Sr. passed away in February, the younger Taylor knew it was up to him to continue the legacy of his “number one hero.” Despite the grief, Taylor was back on the diamond just three days later for the Tigers season opener against Xavier.

Taylor has faced his fair share of adversity since his arrival at Clemson.

Three years ago, Will Taylor was on top of the world. He had just arrived at his school of choice as a dual sport athlete, quickly rising up Swinney’s depth chart in the wide receiver position. For the homecoming game against Boston College in 2021, he was listed as Clemson’s starting kick returner. And then, in the blink of an eye, he had lost the ability to walk thanks to a torn ACL.

Ever the optimist, Taylor embraced the newfound challenge, still having no regrets about his decision to play football. “I really grew as a man, as a person and a player. It taught me so many life lessons that I would have never gotten if I did not take that opportunity.”

Taylor made a full recovery, even catching a touchdown 338 days after his ACL injury as a part of 2022’s ACC Championship team. The success translated into the spring of 2023, as Taylor hit .362 and drove in 46 runs as a key factor in Clemson baseball’s return to prominence.

Following another ACC Title, Taylor’s historic season resulted in him becoming the first Clemson dual-sport athlete to win two separate ACC Championships in the same year since 1992.

Although his days in a helmet and shoulder pads are over, Taylor carries the lessons learned from coach Swinney onto the diamond. “(He’s) the best motivational speaker I have ever heard to this day. Every time he talks, it’s like music to my ears. Learning how to take notes and handling the good, the bad. Always staying even.”

Taylor hinted he misses many of his former teammates and coaches but has been embracing life by playing only one sport. “It’s really been awesome. Just feeling healthy — getting some rest. Now, I am just a full-time baseball player.”

In one month, Taylor and Team 127 look to begin the road to their first College World Series since 2010. Despite his new identity, Taylor will stick to the same unselfish traits he has always held.

Until then?

“I’m going to give it all I got, helping this team, contributing to this team, and helping us win. There’s no better time to be a Clemson Tiger than right now.”

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Patrick Driscoll
Patrick Driscoll, Senior Reporter
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