Asked to describe himself in three words, senior defensive tackle Phil Taylor quickly responded, "Great guy, always."
Ask anyone else to describe Taylor, and you'll more likely get an answer focusing on his size - something like "Really big guy."
It's the first thing you notice about Taylor. After all, by just about any standard, a 22-year-old standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in around 340 pounds is a big man. Even the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line averages just a little over 320 pounds each. Yet for Taylor, that listed weight is actually a pretty big drop from last year.
Flash back to early fall 2009, when all eyes were on the transfer from Penn State as he began his first season at Baylor. Voted Big 12 Newcomer of the Year by the league's coaches, Taylor was expected to do big things for the Bears' defensive line, but instead he struggled with weight and injuries through what proved to be a tough season individually and for the entire team.
Having dropped about 25 pounds over the summer, Taylor ended up having a great fall.
"We had a great offseason as a team, and I did individually, too, getting my weight down," he says. "I felt I needed to do it, and my strength coach also thought I needed to do it. And we got it done, just by watching the things I ate and working harder during conditioning."
The Clinton, Md., native was listed at 335 pounds when he signed with Penn State out of Gwynn Park Senior High in the spring of 2006, and remained around 340 during his two years as a Nittany Lion. At that weight, he made his collegiate debut as a true freshman against Michigan and appeared in each of the team's last seven games that year. As a sophomore, he made five starts as part of a defensive line that ranked seventh nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 93.8 yards per game.
Taylor transferred to Baylor the next year and sat out the 2008 season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. By the time he took the field in 2009, he had bulked up to a listed 355 pounds. That size didn't limit Taylor initially, as he made a diving interception on the Bears' first defensive stand of the season at Wake Forest and blocked two kicks before conference play even began. But by midseason, the extra pounds and a nagging turf toe injury took Taylor out of his game. More than half his 25 tackles (and his lone assisted sack) came in the first three games of the year, and he was limited to just nine starts.
Taylor returned as a force for the defense for 2010, helping to guide the Bears to their first bowl season in 16 years. Totaling 52 tackles, 33 solo, Taylor looks to add to his numbers on December 29 at the Texas Bowl against Illinois.
One of five returning starters on defense, Taylor's improved physique and performance on the field earned him All-Big 12 2nd Team honors from both the AP and the Big 12 coaches. Prior to the start of the season Taylor earned preseason All-Big 12 second team honors from Sports Illustrated and Phil Steele and third team honors from Athlon; Phil Steele also ranked Taylor the No. 10 defensive tackle in the nation. NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. named Taylor the Bears' top NFL draft prospect for 2011, and Scouts Inc. listed him as the No. 94 NFL prospect for the 2011 draft.
On pace to earn his degree this December, Taylor will then be looking towards life in the pros, hoping to follow in the footsteps of former Baylor defensive linemen such as Santana Dotson (1992 draftee, 10 years in the NFL), Daryl Gardener (1996 draftee, eight seasons) and Ethan Kelley (2003 draftee, five-year NFL veteran).
Like those three Bears, if everything works out as Taylor and Baylor fans hope, down the road he'll be able to describe himself with a new three-word phrase: "Longtime NFL veteran."