Dec. 13, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – He had a back injury, but now he’s baaaack.
As Marshall football returned to practice Friday afternoon at Edwards Stadium, there was a No. 9 in a red no-contact jersey. Too big to be the Herd’s real No. 9 – true freshman wideout Justin Hunt – there was no disguising senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor … or his smile.
No. 58 is returning.
Taylor left Marshall’s 34-31 loss at Ohio on Sept. 14 with lower back pain that had become too severe. He hasn’t been in uniform since, as coach Doc Holliday’s team played its way into the Conference USA Championship Game and a Dec. 27 Military Bowl date against Maryland (7-5) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
He doesn’t want to miss it.
“Getting back, it was very important to me, this being my last game,” Taylor said after the workout. “It’s the last time I’ll put on a Marshall uniform, and that’s been something special to me. It always will.
“And to be able to go out the way I want I want to go out, I can’t describe it … and in a bowl game, too. It’s a good deal.”
Marshall (9-4) lost three of the first five games after it lost Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound, two-year starter at right end. The erstwhile walk-on isn’t expecting to get his starting job back. Junior Ra’Shawde Myers has filled the spot with 10 consecutive starts -- and more than ably.
Taylor, of South Point, Ohio, said he suffered a fracture of the L5 disc in his lower back. He said it was determined the injury probably occurred “a couple of weeks before that game at Ohio,” perhaps in the season-opening win over Miami of Ohio.
And while he has been around the team and the defensive line group as an unofficial “coach,” Taylor – one of this team’s leaders and the only junior captain last season – hasn’t been on the field in three months.
“Actually, not really,” Taylor said. “I was able to come out here today and pick up where I left off, still able to beat those guys in the little races we do at the beginning of practice. Everything felt good today. It feels great.
“Being off for that long, we should let Ra’Shawde keep the starting job. He’s done a really good job, and I’ll just come in and back him up whenever I can, and we’ll go out and get this one more win.”
Taylor had six tackles and one sack in a little more than two games he played. As for the possibility of getting an extra year of eligibility because he didn’t play three full games, an appeal to the NCAA wasn’t likely to be successful.
Taylor already had a redshirt year in 2010.
“I really hope it works for him,” Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. “He’s a great guy and it’s unfortunate what happened to him, and so now he’s got an opportunity at another game, one last game.
“JT’s been away from it for a while, so he obviously has to get back out, get acclimated, know he can function the way that he wants he wants to, the way he was when he got injured. But it’s great for him and for us … a great guy. We’re glad to have him back.”
Taylor went through Senior Day ceremonies at Edwards Stadium prior to the Herd’s thumping of East Carolina on Nov. 29, and it might have been the most heart-pounding day he’ll have on a football field. Or, perhaps that is still to come, in a bowl game.
“Senior Day, it was really emotional,” said Taylor, 25, whose time as a Huntington telemarketer between his high school days and walking on at Marshall has been well-chronicled. “I had tears. I don’t think I let any fall, but they were in there, my eyes were full.
“But I was able to get through it and just enjoy that special moment with the team and my family.”
Taylor said it hurt him to not be able to contribute, but he learned something about his comrades while he walked the sidelines during games and practices.
“These guys are resilient; that’s one thing I’ve learned,” he said. “The disappointments we had early on in the season, these guys were unwavering, and they gave everything they were supposed to do and did it the right way.
“It hurt a lot not to be out there with them. Being able to do all the offseason work and to have it cut short like that stunk, but it was great to be out here and watch them succeed like that.”
Taylor put his idle time to good use. He and his longtime fiancee, Marshall nursing student Nakita Clatworthy, were married in late October. They have two children.
Not long after their wedding, one of Holliday’s running jokes was to tell people to ask Taylor where he went on his honeymoon. And when the question was asked, Holliday would answer “Study Hall.”
Taylor would smile at that, but it didn’t match his wide grin Friday upon returning to drills, even if he was in a red jersey.
So, when does he get rid of that color job?
“That’s all up to ‘Dan the Man’ (Herd football trainer Dan Jacobi),” Taylor said. “We’re going to play it day-by-day, take it slow and then hopefully get it rolling next week.
“I’m not going to miss this. Having the chance to come back like this for my last game, it’s special.”