It’s been almost a month since Billy Taylor returned to Johnson City as defensive coordinator of East Tennessee State’s fledgling football program.
Sometimes it seems like he never left his alma mater.
“This has felt like home since day one on campus,” Taylor said Wednesday. “I actually lived in the Davis dorms for about two weeks. It could have been 30 years to the day that I walked in as a freshman, but in some ways it seemed like yesterday. Davis dorms haven’t changed much.”
Taylor, 48, is now living with a friend in the city while looking to relocate his wife and two daughters from Cookeville. He spent the last five seasons as defensive coordinator at Tennessee Tech.
With the Golden Eagles preparing for their season opener tonight against Cumberland — and the Bucs still two years away from their next game — Taylor admits thinking about his former team.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” he said. “That’s something I put my heart and soul into for the last 5 ½ years. There are 20-25 players from East Tennessee on that roster that I helped bring into the program. I think they’re going to have an outstanding year, and I wish them nothing but the best.”
Taylor’s heart and soul now has re-centered on ETSU, where he played linebacker and later coached, until the program was dropped in 2003. He’s part of Carl Torbush’s staff of three, along with defensive backs coach Teddy Gaines.
The challenge of starting a program from scratch is a daunting one, but Taylor is trying to keep things simple.
“I’m really not looking at it as an overbearing challenge,” he said. “It’s one step at a time, and the first thing we have to do is get players on campus that can eventually help us win a Southern Conference championship.”
The ETSU coaches have been putting together notebooks and divvying up the recruiting turf. They can’t make contact with players until Sept. 1.
A handful of walk-ons have already been identified and will start classes the first of the year.
“We targeted a few guys that were seniors last year and kind of got left out that we thought were good football players,” said Taylor. “I evaluated some of them at Tech, and coach Torbush evaluated some at Liberty. We’ll probably have five or six start school in January, so they can get the whole five years in. Then we’ll probably sign about 16 in February.”
Taylor has been feeling good vibes in the area, pretty much from the time he signed on with Torbush.
“The high school coaches I’ve talked to are really excited about ETSU having football again,” he said. “It’s amazing how many of them are ETSU graduates, so the program means a lot to them. It’s a great opportunity to help young men get a college education in East Tennessee.”
All in all, Taylor wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.
“It’s amazing how God has worked this so far,” he said. “I’m so elated … I can’t feel anything but optimistic about it.”
With a new season just hours away, volleyball coach Lindsey Devine doesn’t want her players to dwell on last year’s championship run.
She doesn’t want them to forget either.
“We’re not looking at last year’s results, because we have a lot to prove this year,” Devine said Wednesday. “But with that experience, we have the maturity now. We’ve been in a variety of pressure situations, and that should help us.”
The Bucs get started Friday when they play UNCG at the Deacon Classic in Winston-Salem, N.C. They face host Wake Forest and East Carolina on Saturday.
“I’m expecting some really good volleyball,” said Devine. “I’ll have the opportunity to put a lot of different people on court and get a better feel for what’s working as we look ahead.”
The Bucs are led by senior outside hitter Megan Devine, the reigning Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year. Middle blocker Meredith Hardy, a junior, is also a first-team all-conference performer.
ETSU was picked second in the A-Sun preseason poll, behind Florida Gulf Coast. The Bucs went 11-7 in conference last year before catching fire at the tournament in Nashville. They lost to Kentucky in their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance to finish 23-13.
Devine says the players are eager to get down to business again. They conducted their final scrimmage of the preseason Tuesday night at Brooks Gym.
“Everybody is healthy and strong and looking forward to playing somebody across the net other than themselves,” said Devine. “The girls have really worked hard over the preseason. Collectively, this is the strongest, most physical team in my 11 years here. And that’s a great way to start out the season.”
The action also starts anew Friday night for the men’s soccer team. The Bucs have a tough assignment as they open at South Carolina.
The exhibition season yielded a couple of wins at home over UNC Pembroke and King, then a 1-0 loss last Saturday at College of Charleston.
The Bucs, picked second in the conference, will open the season without senior forward David Geno, who is coming off surgery for a broken foot. Geno is the reigning A-Sun player of the year and, despite his injury, also the preseason player of the year.
Classmates Itode Fubara and Blaike Woodruff were also all-conference picks.
After the South Carolina trip, the Bucs return home for intriguing matches against Kentucky (Sept. 5) and Winthrop (Sept. 9).
The women’s soccer team will try to get into the win column Friday night when it hosts VMI in its home opener at Summers-Taylor Stadium. Game time is 7.
The Lady Bucs fell in their first two matches last weekend, 2-1 at Appalachian State and then 2-0 at Virginia Tech. Junior midfielder Ellis Parsons had the lone goal.