The two screws that once held Brandon Taylor’s foot together now hang on the wall of his apartment, a tangible memento of the injury that did so much to change his football life.
Before he broke his foot in a freak injury last November against Alabama, Taylor was like a lot of young football players.
“You think you’re invincible,” Taylor said after Monday’s practice.
“I became a more humble player. Never take a play off. Play like it’s your last.
“It changes you a lot.”
Taylor was trying to defend Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze when he suffered the first serious injury of his career.
“He ran an inside route on me,” Taylor recalled. “I went to plant my foot and my cleat snapped in half. When it snapped, my foot snapped with it.”
Not only did Taylor suffer a broken foot, but a ligament near the break pulled away from and chipped a bone. He was done for the balance of the 2010 season and spring practice. A surgery the following week placed two screws in his foot to stabilize the injury and speed the healing process.
The injury was similar to the one suffered by former LSU quarterback Matt Mauck during a 2002 game at Florida.
Mauck, who wore No. 18 at LSU, began the tradition of passing down the number from player to player, its recipient expected to be someone who overcomes adversity and represents what it means to be a Tiger football player.
The number has since been worn by Jacob Hester, Richard Dickson and last year by oft-injured running back Richard Murphy.
Mauck consulted earlier this year with members of LSU’s training staff to ask them who they thought should get No. 18 this season.
Taylor’s name was the quick recommendation.
“I think he’s a tremendous player and person,” said Mauck, who now has a dental practice in Denver and serves as a team dentist for the Denver Broncos. “That’s kind of the whole point behind No. 18. You don’t necessarily have to be a star player, but you have to lead on the field and off. He embodies all of that.
“That kind of injury really checks your character, how much desire and willingness you have to come back from it. The way he battled through it shows how much he loves LSU football.”
Taylor was going through some rehab work earlier this year when athletic trainers Jack Marucci and Andy Barker called him in.
“They asked me if I would do a number change,” Taylor recalled. At the time, he didn’t know which number he was being asked to wear.
“They told me the history of No. 18 and that he (Mauck) went through the same injury I went through.”
Taylor subsequently spoke to Mauck and to Murphy, now a running back with Jacksonville Jaguars, about the responsibility of switching his number from 15 to 18.
“It comes with a lot,” Taylor said. “I have to really step up my game this year. That’s a real important number on this team, and I have to play well to pass it down to someone next year.”
Many players say they don’t feel 100 percent back from a major injury until that first hit in a real game.
Like his recovery time - Taylor said doctors told him it can take a year but he was back in five months - Taylor feels ahead of that schedule, too.
“Me and Kenny Hilliard actually bumped heads” Monday, Taylor said. “That felt pretty good, to actually feel contact again.”
Still, there is much that feels different to Taylor now.
“You have to know football can end in the snap of a second,” he said. “Not everyone is blessed to come back from an injury like this. I’m just blessed that I can come back and keep rolling.”
Blackwell on Johnson
It’s only been a few practices in the spring and a handful in August, but LSU senior right guard Will Blackwell is already impressed by freshman defensive tackle Anthony “Freak” Johnson.
“He’s very strong. He’s what we call a heavy guy because when you block him he’s hard to move,” Blackwell said.
“He definitely has a chance to be one of the best defensive lineman I’ve seen here.”
Blackwell, who basically just played in LSU’s last three games in 2010 after suffering a severe leg injury on the season’s first snap against North Carolina, wore a precautionary ice bag on his knee after practice.
“The knee’s sore,” Blackwell said, “but overall I feel great.”
Tuesday is media day
The Tigers will have the day off Tuesday from the heat of practice as they prepare for another kind of grilling - an onslaught of interviews during LSU’s annual preseason football media day.
The team returns to the practice field Wednesday with a pair of two-a-day workouts.
The Tigers will practice once Thursday and twice again Friday in advance of a Saturday morning scrimmage in Tiger Stadium. Players and coaches will then participate in LSU Fan day activities Saturday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Carl Maddox Field House.