Although Injured, Taylor Has Impactful Trip Back To UVA
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – Saturday was supposed to be very special for Noah Taylor. It was a coming home, but not a celebration or sorts.
Taylor spent four years playing at Virginia before moving on to North Carolina last winter as a graduate transfer. He wanted a new experience with his Covid year, and he chose to become a Tar Heel.
In the 10 months since, Taylor became one of the more popular players on the team and best leaders. His season ended in the first quarter of a win over Pittsburgh last week, so Taylor’s anticipated return to Charlottesville wasn’t going to play out as he expected.
The experience was still special, though, because his coaches and teammates made sure of it. He was one of UNC’s captains Saturday, so there he was hobbling out to mid-field for the coin toss draped in Carolina blue. He shook hands with three former teammates while standing with two current ones. It was quite a scene.
“I am so proud of Noah Taylor,” UNC Coach Mack Brown said after his team beat the Cavaliers, 31-28, at Scott Stadium. “It’s strange when you can have a transfer portal and guys go front rival to rival and play against their former team… We even asked him, ‘Do you want to be the captain, or does that shove it in their face that you left? You tell me.’”
Taylor wanted to represent his new team. The next honor was when Brown asked him to address the club in the locker room before the game.
Carolina had gone through its main warmups when the Hall of Famer asked the injured defensive dynamo to inspire his mates.
“I don’t know what he said,” Brown said. “I got all the coaches out of the room, and I said, ‘Noah, tell them what they’ve got to do to win the game.’”
What did Taylor say?
“Surprisingly, he really didn’t make it much personal,” junior linebacker Cedric Gray said. “He actually told everybody to close their eyes, and think of the reason why you play football. And we all did that, took a second, thought about why we play football.
“And then he kind of went on to say, ‘hey, play for whatever that why is today. Give it all you’ve got for that why is today.’ And that was basically his message.”
Taylor addressed the team for a couple of minutes, and his words seeped into the Tar Heels. They listened.
In fact, it was one of the best pre-game speeches Gray has ever heard.
“I think the way he attacked it was different,” he said. “A lot of people might choose to go in there and scream and yell. I kind of liked his calm, but very impactful approach.”
Topping off Carolina’s attempt to give Taylor the best day possible, it was his birthday, so the team sang “Happy Birthday” to him in the locker room and presented him with a massive cake.
Brown said that was a first for him in his five decades in the business. He was pleased, though. And so was Taylor.