While his classmates at Coastal Carolina University plunge into their second-semester studies, Bruton High School alum Lorenzo Taliaferro is hundreds of miles away, preparing for a test that might determine his future in professional football.
Taliaferro was one of 87 college seniors selected to participate in Saturday’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., which the NFL Network will show at 4 p.m.
NFL draft choices such as Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
“This is a great opportunity to showcase my talent and help scouts understand I can compete, not only against (Division I) players, but future NFL players,” Taliaferro said in an interview this week. “It’s been a great week. Every moment for me was great. Just being able to come down and compete with the best seniors in the draft.”
The invitation to the Senior Bowl was well-deserved. The Big South Offensive Player of the Year rushed for a career-high 1,487 yards and 23 touchdowns this season to lead the conference in both categories. He was named Conference Player of the Week five times and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, presented annually to the Football Championship Subdivision’s best player.
As a senior at Bruton, he rushed for 1,678 yards and 21 touchdowns to lead the Panthers to their first state football championship-game appearance.
Taliaferro elected to go to Lackawanna (Pa.) Junior College to improve his grades and play ball. He rushed for 524 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons with the Falcons, earning Offensive Most Valuable Player honors as a sophomore.
After receiving limited interest from Virginia Tech, Connecticut and Temple, he elected to go to Coastal Carolina to pursue his dream of playing college football. He rushed for 357 yards in his first season near Myrtle Beach, S.C. Primarily used as a short-yardage specialist, he managed to rush for five touchdowns.
Taliaferro was named the Chanticleers’ starting fullback last year and led them to their most successful season in program history.
“I faced hardships at Bruton when we were always the smallest team and always got counted out and had to prove ourselves,” he explained. “At Lackawanna, I played fullback until I made plays to prove I could do more than just block. I was second-string at Coastal my first year for the first time in my life, but they all taught me what it truly means to be a man, which means more than just football.”
That motivation has served him well this week during practices in front of hundreds of NFL coaches and scouts. Taliaferro has held his own against some of the best players in the country, and his hard work has not gone unnoticed.
On Monday, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock dubbed him the Player of the Day for the South team for his strong work in pass protection.
ESPN.com’s Michael DiRocco wrote, “Another small-school player that caught my eye was running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. He’s the biggest running back participating this week. He had a couple of nice runs during the short 11-on-11 period.”
“Lorenzo Taliaferro and Georgia Southern cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks are two of the 11 true small-school talents looking to stand out among the big boys,” Dolphins.com writer Andy Kent wrote in his Wednesday blog.
Not bad for someone who was a late addition to the Senior Bowl.
“I would rate myself as a complete player,” Taliaferro said. “Someone who can run, block, catch, cover kicks and return the ball for you. I’m selfless. I will do what it takes to make a team and contribute.”
Former Bruton and Virginia Tech standout Bryan Randall knows the process very well. He participated in the less-prestigious Hula Bowl following an outstanding college career. Randall didn’t get drafted but has spent time in NFL training camps with Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Pittsburgh and numerous indoor teams. He’s expected to play for the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul this spring.
“This is a huge opportunity for Taliaferro,” Randall explained in an email interview Friday. “The Senior Bowl definitely gets the most attention from pro scouts and teams. Numerous draft picks will be there, so you will have all eyes on you during the week. Just being in that atmosphere will get him looks that he would never get at Coastal Carolina.”
Taliaferro said that he’s met with coaches and scouts from several NFL teams and believes he fared well.
“They compliment me on my ability to catch and (block) in pass protection,” Taliaferro said. “They said most backs aren’t willing to pass-block. I’m in control of my own destiny.”
“It only takes one team to like you and give you a chance,” he said. “Don’t be discouraged by what round you are projected to go in the draft, focus on doing every little thing you can do to impress that one team who is looking for a player like you.”
A strong showing Saturday also could earn Taliaferro an invite to next month’s NFL combine.
“As much fun as I’ve had playing football here, this was more of a business trip,” he said. “Most of these guys got a head start by playing against this competition every day. I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing most of my life. I expect to wow some doubters and scouts to let them know that a small-school player can make big-time plays and have a great passion for the game.”
Harvey can be reached by phone at 757-345-2352.