ATHENS -- James DeLoach does not see many of his Georgia football teammates in some of his classes. There aren’t many planning to major in radiology.
“I try not to be an athlete in class,” DeLoach said. “I sit to the front and pay attention.”
John Taylor is a big physical presence who smiles a lot and says little. Thus he has gained the nickname ‘Coffey.’
“It’s from the movie ‘The Green Mile.’ The big dude,” Taylor said, smiling and shaking his head.
“To me, he looks just like him,” DeLoach said.
That might be the most interesting thing about these two Georgia defensive players. Together, they’re aiming to become something pretty remarkable: Two former classmates from the same small high school who will both be starting, or at least getting key snaps, on the same SEC defense.
DeLoach, a sophomore, finished spring practice as the first-teamer at one outside linebacker spot. He’s getting a major push for the job this preseason from freshman Leonard Floyd, but, either way, DeLoach figures into Georgia’s plans.
Taylor, a redshirt freshman, has seen his arrow move in the opposite direction. A second-teamer on the defensive line after spring practice, he now appears to be pushing for a first-team spot.
They both could start. They both could come off the bench. But it’s very likely that they will both be on the field for a lot of snaps Aug. 31 at Clemson.
And they hail from tiny Millen, a town about midway between Savannah and Augusta with a population of about 3,000.
“Two red lights. That’s about it,” DeLoach said. “A country town. I love it there.”
Their high school, Jenkins County, was also pretty small, and the team didn’t win very much while they were there. But DeLoach and Taylor were big and athletic and drew the notice of college scouts.
Taylor was the more highly ranked of the two, as scouts were attracted by his size (6-5, 330 pounds) and the athleticism he had with it. Taylor redshirted last year because of the talent ahead of him, but senior defensive end Garrison Smith believes Taylor can eventually be one of the best linemen Georgia has produced.
When asked what he thinks of that, Taylor reverts to the ‘Coffey’ persona and just says he looks up to the older players. As big as he is, Taylor still smiles in awe at how he compared to John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers, last year’s 350-pound-plus nose tackles.
“They were just big. Just big!” Taylor said.
He might be about 30 pounds lighter than them, but Taylor is flexible enough that the Bulldogs plan to use him at both end and tackle. The coaches think he can be effective both in stopping the run up the middle and in rushing the passer from the outside.
“Athletically, he can pretty much do all the things you talked about right there,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We’re gonna try to put him in position that will allow him to be successful relative to all the things he does well.”
DeLoach was a slightly less heralded recruit, in part because he broke his arm his junior year. The injury might end up being career-altering. But not his football career.
DeLoach struck up a friendship with the radiologist who treated him, and he became interested in the field of medicine. So he’s majoring in biology, with an eye on eventually getting that radiology degree.
“I know there’s a lot of money in the medical field. That’s where I want to be. So I want a foundation in it to succeed,” he said.
In the meantime, there’s football. This spring he had to have thumb surgery, but he returned to practice quickly and it’s not expected to be an issue at Clemson. DeLoach might not have the pass-rushing ability that Floyd has exhibited, at least in practice, but, like Taylor, he might be effective against the run and the pass.
“He’s just gotta continue to work and develop,” Grantham said. “I’ve been real pleased with his progress. He’s obviously gonna have a role for us, playing multiple things.”
It remains to be seen how much of a role the two players from Jenkins County have. But it’s a good bet that every play is watched closely back home in their two-stoplight town.
“I feel like it’s a chip on my shoulder. I feel like I’m not only representing myself, but my town, also,” Taylor said.