Seniors often have mixed emotions about their final first game. Senior offensive lineman Taylor Johnstone only has one: excitement.
Johnstone has been trying to break into the starting lineup for the last two seasons. This year he succeeded. On August 27, the NCAA informed Johnstone that he as ineligible through the first four games of the 2013 season.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time, it seems like, even though It’s only been four weeks,” Johnstone said. “I just can’t wait to get back out there and play.”
Johnstone has been no stranger to adversity during his career at Jacksonville State. During his first spring training at JSU, he took snaps at every position on the offensive line.
“Versatility has been a big thing,” he said. “Past coaches have pushed it on me and I’m thankful they did. Now it helps me all around.”
Playing three positions was difficult enough. Playing for three offensive line coaches has made that even more of a challenge. Johnstone credits his his former coach Adam Ross with having the biggest impact on his career.
“He would always expect a full effort out of me. I’m thankful that he did,” he said. “He used to call me his bell cow just because I would bring maximum effort everyday and I’d push the other offensive linemen to do the same.”
“What we get out of him such a leadership component,” said head coach Bill Clark. “He’s a guy that’s been there, done that. Our guys really listen to him. He comes in with the right attitude everyday.”
That attitude was evident during Johnstone’s ineligibility. While he was not allowed to suit up, he stepped into a role it seems he was born to fill. He put his “coaching hat on.”
“I guess it’s kind of expected of me,” said Johnstone. “I’m going into physical education. Most P.E. coaches want to coach a sport also. It helps that my dad is a coach. I’ve been around coaching my entire life. It just comes natural.”
Coach Clark said that he would have to wave Johnstone back to the sideline during timeouts on occasion.
“If you watch our sidelines, he’s out there. He’s in the huddle.”
It is hard to blame him for wanting to be involved. He has had to stand idly by while the Gamecocks set a new FCS rushing record and played in three nail-biters. The most frustrating thing for Johnstone to endure was having to miss the game against Georgia State in the Georgia Dome. The Douglasville, Ga. native would have played in his home state for the first time since high school.
“It was almost as disappointing to me as it was to my friends,” he said. “All of them had planed to come home and watch the game. When I broke the news to them that I wasn’t going to be playing they were a little upset.”
That disappointment is something he is putting behind him. There is something much more important on the horizon. When he takes the field on Saturday, he will do so for the first time as a husband and as a father. His wife Paige and their newborn son Ryder will be watching.
“It will be emotional, the fact that my family will be watching me,” said Johnstone. “Not just my parents but my own wife and my own child. I’ll be doing the best I can to make my son and my family proud. “