Tyler Taylor knows Dave Aranda is serious about him playing early as a freshman.
It’s a primary reason why Taylor, a hotly recruited Georgia linebacker, signed with LSU two weeks ago. Aranda, the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, isn’t pulling his leg or lying through his teeth.
“Nobody promises you anything,” Taylor said, “but he said he wants me to play as a freshman. Nobody is blowing smoke. I have chance to play.”
How can he be so sure? Taylor needs only to examine LSU’s lack of depth at inside linebacker — three total on the roster — and to use his mother’s keen sense about people.
“She’s got a good BS detector,” Tyler said. “If she feels like somebody is throwing fluff, she’ll let me know."
Akita Taylor’s “BS detector” stayed quiet on their trips to Baton Rouge.
“She couldn’t find anything with the LSU coaches,” Tyler Taylor said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Well, he’s not here just yet. Taylor is scheduled to arrive in June with most of LSU’s other members of the 2017 signing class. That’s when his march to early playing time really begins.
Many of LSU’s signing day celebrations centered on guys not named Tyler Taylor.
The Tigers got signatures from the likes of Jacob Phillips, the top-ranked inside linebacker in 2017 who LSU flipped from Oklahoma and a guy Tyler will compete against. They got a surprise commitment from Houston edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, who spurned his in-state Texas.
They inked Lafayette native Tyler Shelvin, the top-ranked player in the state, and highly touted Mississippi quarterback Myles Brennan.
In all, they brought in one of the best classes ever by a first-year head coach, ranking seventh nationally. And, oh yeah, it includes Taylor, too. He’s only ranked as the 11th-best inside linebacker in the class and a guy who Georgia, Auburn and Oklahoma were fighting for to the very end.
In the coaching staff’s mind, Taylor isn’t some sleeper.
Just look at what LSU coach Ed Orgeron shouted while watching Taylor's announcement on signing day: "Next Kendell Beckwith right there!” he yelled from LSU's war room.
Later in an interview, Orgeron and Aranda compared Taylor’s skills to the Tigers’ former three-year starting middle linebacker.
“Smooth is a word that immediately comes to mind when you watch him play,” Aranda said. “The game plays naturally for him. You watch him on tape and he plays smooth. When you watch Beck’s tape, it’s the same way.”
Aranda isn’t sure which of the two inside linebacker positions Taylor might play — Mack, where Beckwith played, or Rover, Duke Riley’s old spot.
He does know when he could play.
“He’s going to have a crack to play and start,” Aranda said.
So who is this kid from the Atlanta area who will compete in the fall for a starting spot?
To get to know the player, you must first get to know his mother.
"Miss Akita was the key to the whole deal," Orgeron said. "She did the most research and was as detailed as anybody in recruiting I’ve ever seen."
Akita Taylor is a lead financial systems analyst for AT&T. She doesn’t think of herself only as a mother. She takes on the father role, too.
In fact, she was behind Tyler’s position move in football at the little league level. He moved from offense, where he began in the sport, to defense, where he eventually starred at Lanier High in Buford, Georgia.
She was at least partially responsible for choosing his long-term athletic career. In a meeting a couple of years ago, mom and son picked football over basketball as the sport that Taylor would pursue beyond high school.
Akita used mathematics to come to that conclusion, as she does each day at her job.
Basketball requires five players. Football requires 11. It was as simple as that.
“If you really do the math, you stand a greater chance of going to the next level,” she said.
This doesn’t mean Tyler stopped playing basketball. He’s still the starting do-it-all member of the Longhorns boys basketball team. Lanier, in fact, has its first playoff game this week.
Tyler runs the point, at times. He also plays a power forward role, too, using his 6-2, 230-pound frame to muscle out 6-5 and 6-6 centers. It’s his favorite part of the game.
“I rough them up a little bit,” he said. “People get mad at me. I’m physical. I don’t let them come down there and do whatever they want. They can’t move me.”
Aranda has seen Tyler in action on the hardwood. He began recruiting him last spring, after Orgeron, then an LSU assistant recruiting the Atlanta area, identified Tyler.
“Whether it’s a pick-and-roll happening or setting up a guy in the paint, he’s got an instinct for the game,” Aranda said. “Football is the same way.”
Akita doesn’t miss her son’s games. And when she's there, she's just like every other dad — talking with the fathers about Xs and Os and meeting with coaches, Tyler said.
“I hear it all of the time. They’ve never seen a woman so dialed in or plugged in,” Akita said. “People are like, ‘This is so uncharacteristic.’ Sometimes there are situations where you know a lot more than men do.”
For the last 15-plus years, she’s been a single mother. It’s just her and Tyler. She refers to them as “Bonnie and Clyde,” the traveling criminal couple in the 1920s and 30s who swept across the United States.
Akita and Tyler spent the last 18 months traveling the country visiting colleges, mostly riding around in the family’s F-150.
“I am a country girl,” Akita laughs.
Akita and Tyler hauled into that F-150 and drove to Baton Rouge before the Tigers’ game against Florida on Nov. 19. That was their first visit to campus.
Akita admits that LSU was a late-charging contender for her son, and Orgeron even doubted the Tigers could land him.
Things didn’t get serious until that visit, less than three months before signing day. She studied up on the football program and the university quickly, spending several days in December immersing herself in research.
She peppered the staff and administrators with questions and listened to their pitches. That BS detector of hers never went off.
The final factor was a phone call he had with Beckwith two nights before signing day, when Tyler was waffling between Auburn and LSU.
The real Kendell Beckwith pushed what coaches call the future Kendell Beckwith to LSU. How fitting.
“He was telling me how good of a coach Coach Aranda is,” Tyler said. “He wasn’t trying to pressure me into going to LSU. He didn’t care where I went. He was telling me facts.”