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Friday, November 21, 2014

Ohio State Football: Taylor Decker



Great article from the Columbus Dispatch on Ohio State's Taylor Decker


Taylor Decker was still wearing his sweat-soaked uniform in the quiet Ohio State locker room after the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson when Jack Mewhort approached him.

Decker was a sophomore playing right tackle with four multi-year senior starters on Ohio State’s rock of an offensive line in 2013. Three of those players – left tackle Mewhort, center Corey Linsley and left guard Andrew Norwell -- have become rookie starters in the NFL. 

They cared deeply about the legacy they’d built, and Mewhort had serious words for the guy entrusted to carry it on.

“When I got in the locker room,” Decker recalled, “he looked at me and said, ‘It’s your unit now. We’re done. We’re graduating and going on to the next chapter of our career or life. You have to keep that standard up.’ ”

In an instant, Decker switched from little brother to leader by default. It is a role the junior has embraced. Despite some shaky moments early this season, the rebuilt line has again developed into the foundation of the Ohio State offense. Decker is a big reason for that, both with his play and leadership.

“He was obviously the youngest of the group last year and quite honestly the least productive,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “Now he’s just a much better player (and) a great leader. I can’t say enough about how much he’s grown in two years.

“He’s a model citizen for our team and program and a guy who gives us energy every day at practice.”
  *  *  *

The little-brother role at Ohio State came naturally to Decker. The 21-year-old is the youngest of five kids in Ron and Sheila Decker’s family. He has twin sisters who are 38 and two brothers, Adam, 27, and Justin, 24.

Growing up in the Dayton suburb of Vandalia, his brothers didn’t exactly take it easy on Decker.

“It was full-throttle on him all the time,” said Justin, who serves in the Navy and is stationed in San Diego. “Adam and I kind of teamed up on him a little bit. He was the youngest brother. We gave him a hard time. Tough love, you know.”

Let Taylor win a game? No chance. Everything he got, he earned.

“I remember playing GI Joes and it would work out that it would be them and their friends against me,” Taylor said with a chuckle. “It didn’t make sense to me at the time, and it still doesn’t. As a baby brother, you have to get beat up on a little bit.”

But the brothers were as close as they were competitive, and Taylor wanted to follow in their footsteps. Ron played football for two years at Army, and Adam and Justin played in high school. But Taylor, who loved basketball, wasn’t crazy about playing offensive line.

“But my brother told me if I didn’t play football, I was kind of a sissy,” Taylor said. “I thought, OK, that’s my older brother, I’m going to play football.”

He wears No. 68 because that was Justin’s number for Vandalia Butler High School. Back injuries prevented Justin from pursuing a college career.

“I wanted to be just like him,” Decker said.

He originally committed to play for Notre Dame, but switched when Irish coaches Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton joined the newly hired Meyer’s staff. 

After spending his freshman year as a backup, Decker replaced the graduated Reid Fragel at right tackle. Just like his brothers, his older linemates cut him no slack, particularly Mewhort.

“Being the other tackle, Jack always was the one pushing him in the weight room,” said Linsley, now with the Green Bay Packers. “I can vividly remember a tug-of-war contest. Jack was pulling on the rope and shoving Taylor into the ground. I still remember it because I felt like that was day Taylor grew up and matured a lot.”

Decker understood the treatment.

“There’s a standard around here,” he said. “They wouldn’t settle for anything less than that. It’s not always fun. It’s not always fun to hear when you’re doing a drill that you’re not doing it right.

“Looking back on it, I’m thankful that they were hard on me and pushed me and coach (Warinner) pushed me and still pushes me. That’s the only way to get the most out of a player. You have to be taken 100 percent out of your comfort zone. They were encouraging when they needed to be, and they were hard when they needed to be.”

Then, as soon as the Orange Bowl was over, Decker took over that role. Just two days after that game, Decker and current right guard Pat Elflein went to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center weight room to begin preparations for 2014. 

Truth be told, they sneaked in. Head strength coach Mickey Marotti ordered players to take some time off to let their bodies heal after the long season and he chided Decker for not adhering to that.

But to Decker, there was no time to spare. He knew that outsiders doubted that Ohio State could withstand the loss of the four senior linemen. He believed that their replacements were talented enough to do that. He also knew how hard they’d have to work.

“I remember saying to the guys that everyone’s talking about how much we lost, but they don’t realize what we have here,” Decker said. “I told them to do everything you can to get the most out of every drill and do extra work.”

Even Decker had to make a major adjustment, flipping from right tackle to left tackle. But the 6-foot-7, 315-pounder has settled in nicely.

“Taylor is unbelievably athletic and has all the tools in the world,” Linsley said. “It was just a matter of getting that tenacious streak in him. Then I saw him toss a linebacker like 5 yards out of the end zone in the Penn State game. That told me how much he’s grown up. Now he’s got a mean streak.”

Asked if Decker was a future NFL player, Linsley replied, “Without a doubt.”

Away from football, Decker is more cerebral and thoughtful. He has a 3.0 grade point average as an animal-sciences major. Decker interned last summer at the Columbus Zoo.

He spoke with excitement of working with the zoo’s emeritus director Jack Hanna in a presentation on Decker’s first day and carrying a wallaby and snow leopard in front of an auditorium with 100 people.

“I worked with really great people,” Decker said. “I really enjoyed that.”

Ron Decker described his son as humble, unchanged by his status as a football player.

“He’s one of those gentle giants,” he said. “What you see on the football field is, to a degree, a contrast with who he is outside of football.”

The Buckeyes can clinch the Big Ten East division with a win against Indiana this week. It’d be a huge step on a gratifying journey for Decker, the little brother all grown up.

“I’ve wanted to play here my whole life,” he said. “But I don’t want to just be here and be on the team. I want to make an impact. For the offensive line to be playing so well, it’s an awesome feeling.”

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