Meet the real freshman who eased Brian Kelly’s worries about LSU tight ends | USL
At the most crucial moment of LSU’s season opener, Mason Taylor looked for the clock. Perhaps through years of training drills or an innate understanding due to his lineage, Taylor knew what to do if he caught the ball with 10 seconds left. Find the sideline and stop the timer.
At the snap of her fingers, Taylor blocked a defensive end before heading out across the field on a shallow cross. Florida State had everyone else covered in the end zone. Quarterback Jayden Daniels hit his real freshman tight end.
“Get out of bounds,” Taylor told himself.
Taylor realized he didn’t need to be the hero. He dodged a tackle and dove towards the sideline at the 2-yard line. Taylor immediately looked at the clock again. He had stopped with one second remaining, and although officials determined he landed in bounds after a review, he gave LSU a chance to win.
“I didn’t want to be the guy to get tackled on the 1-yard line,” Taylor said. “If the pylon had opened I would have certainly gone for it, but I was trying to fight my way to the touchline.”
Few freshmen would be on the field then, but three games into his career, Taylor took over as LSU’s leading tight end. He has six catches for 58 yards, and he would have more if not for a few inaccurate throws and going out of bounds before catching the ball once last weekend against Mississippi State.
LSU coach Brian Kelly accepted the mistake. He can coach Taylor on his awareness. More importantly, Taylor had the tools to start as a true freshman, easing Kelly’s preseason worries about position and giving LSU a reliable 6-foot-5, 245-pound target on the lower roads. .
“He’s really good at catching the ball on the flat and coming up with it,” said redshirt junior center Charles Turner. “A lot of guys, they catch the ball and go 2 or 3 yards and go down. Mason, he’s looking to show up and bring it home.”
Before Taylor arrived this summer, LSU didn’t know what he had in him, other than someone with remarkable football genes. Taylor’s father, Jason Taylor, was an NFL Hall of Famer in the first round. His uncle, Zach Thomas, played linebacker for 13 seasons in the NFL. His older brother, Isaiah, plays safety in Arizona.
Unlike the rest of his family, Taylor never played much defense. He preferred the tight end because it set him apart from everyone else.
“If he chose to play on the defensive line, he would be a five-star national player with his ability to move, his strength and his athleticism,” said Roger Harriott, the head coach of St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla. ) High school where Taylor played. “However, he wanted to do something different.”
At the end of life, Taylor played her senior year at the age of 16 and only turned 17 before graduating this year. Harriott believed his development, combined with how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting recruiting, delayed Taylor’s arrival on national radars until later in his high school career.
But Harriott saw Taylor’s frame and understood his past.
“You could tell he was going to evolve physically,” Harriott said.
Taylor’s first game of senior year, St. Thomas Aquinas played St. Frances Academy (Baltimore) in a match televised on ESPN. Taylor had eight catches for 100+ yards, Harriott said, and defensive coordinators focused on him the rest of the season because he had such a lag. Taylor finished with 35 receptions for 403 yards as STA won its third straight state championship.
“The focus was on him,” Harriott said. “It opened up the rest of our attack, and he had no problems in his role.”
But the No. 492 nationally ranked three-star rookie wasn’t someone LSU considered an immediate starter. The staff attempted to sign another tight end in the class and searched for an experienced option in the transfer portal without success.
When Taylor joined the team at 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, he noticed the size of the players around him. He needed to grow.
“It shocks you a bit,” he said.
Taylor gained 13 pounds, taking the size to defend herself. He credited nutrition director Matt Frakes for designing his meal plan and making sure he ate on a regular schedule. He also lifted heavier weights than in high school as part of LSU’s strength program.
“It was pretty easy,” Taylor said. “I thought it would be difficult because I’m not gaining weight very well.”
Pretty soon, Kelly started praising Taylor during preseason camp. Kelly had worried about LSU’s depth at tight end since joining, but Taylor’s presence made him feel better about a crucial point on the offense.
“He’s got a skill set, confidence, and he’s got the size to get into traffic and make plays,” Kelly said.
Taylor caught four assists in the season opener. He caught one more against Southern and another against Mississippi State, though Daniels targeted him twice in the red zone during a practice in which LSU settled for a field goal.
He made mistakes like any freshman. At one point, Taylor called off a hold going out of bounds.
“I’m okay with that,” Kelly said. “It’s a learning curve, and these are great opportunities to point out to a freshman that they won’t make the same mistake twice.”
For now, Taylor will contribute the most as a receiver. He hopes to become a complete tight end. He admires San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle the way he blocks inside and then bursts on the field. Taylor wants to become someone else who can do anything.
Harriott thinks he will. Taylor is already as big as his father when Jason Taylor was playing in the NFL, and he should continue to grow physically. Harriott expects Taylor to thrive in his own position.
“Your son has the same body structure as you,” Harriott told Taylor’s father, “but because of his resources, he’s going to be taller.”