College Sports

He wasn’t taken in the draft, so this Gamecock put his NFL future ‘in God’s hands’

Gamecocks tackle Taylor Stallworth squeezes into a WR jersey

South Carolina Gamecocks football’s Taylor Stallworth ended a jersey after practice. He got one from a 6-foot-4 receiver in Terry Googer.
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South Carolina Gamecocks football’s Taylor Stallworth ended a jersey after practice. He got one from a 6-foot-4 receiver in Terry Googer.

When this year’s NFL draft finishes up, former South Carolina football players will be scattered to the winds.

A few will have been taken, notably Deebo Samuel, perhaps Dennis Daley, Zack Bailey, Rashad Fenton or someone else. But most of the rest will be signing tentative deals, getting ready to go to camp with this team or that, hoping to earn a spot.

It’s the same thing Taylor Stallworth did last season, when the New Orleans Saints gave him a chance. But despite all the unknowns around it, the process didn’t knock him off-kilter.

“It wasn’t nerve wracking,” Stallworth said just over a month ago. “I just put it in God’s hands. I know that I was going to be somewhere. I just let God take over.”

He and guard Cory Helms signed with the Saints together. Helms was cut, caught on with Cincinnati only to be cut again and spent this past season as a graduate assistant with the Gamecocks.

Stallworth caught on, earned his roster spot and thrived. He ended up playing more than 30 percent of his team’s snaps on defense, contributing to a group that went 13-3 on the season.

“It was a great year,” Stallworth said. “I feel like I became a whole different player. Being there, learning from the older guys, living up to the older guys that I’ve seen play on TV and have a chance to play with them. It was just a great opportunity. I loved it.”

The only part he called nerve wracking was the fallout after the controversial call that helped end the Saints’ season early and deny them a trip to the Super Bowl.

He said there was a reset, going from being a “baby” in college to grown up in the NFL. Life was different going against older players who were far more steeped in the game, and the difference when it comes to interior linemen was apparent.

“I’ll say, more in-depth with their technique,” Stallworth said. “It’s a lot of guys out there, how they practice, how they work.

“Learning them, watching film on them, that was the difference.”

For the year, Stallworth made six tackles with one sack, averaging 22.7 snaps per game.

He battled injuries his first couple years with the Gamecocks but grew into a starter as a junior and an understated star his final season. His last year, he delivered 30 tackles, 10 quarterback hurries and anchored a run defense that took a considerable jump from the year before (and fell back the next season).

He admitted, he didn’t expect to play as much as he did his first year in the league, but called it a great opportunity.

This week, he’ll watch teammate go through the same thing he did. Some will get picked, some will wait it out. Before he took on NFL linemen, he went against the likes of Bailey, one of the top Gamecocks linemen in recent years who had to deal with a broken leg this season.

It’s not clear if he’ll hear his name called, but Stallworth has faith his teammate will join him in the league soon enough.

“Once he first stepped foot at South Carolina, he was special,” Stallworth said.