ETSU's Taylor looks forward to facing Wofford

Joe Avento • Updated Sep 20, 2016 at 7:28 PM

Billy Taylor says he's coaching against his second-favorite team this week.

Taylor, East Tennessee State University's defensive coordinator, will return to his former home when the Bucs play at Wofford College on Saturday.

Taylor coached at Wofford for six years, but his relationship with the school goes much deeper than that. He played for Terriers head coach Mike Ayers when Ayers was at ETSU, and the two became very close.

"Coach Ayers is really like a second father to me," Taylor said after Tuesday's practice. "This is a game I've been looking forward to. For one thing, I get to see those guys. I don't get to see Coach Ayers as much as I'd like."

How much of an impact did Ayers have on his former player? Taylor named his oldest daughter Michaela after his former coach.

Taylor met Ayers in December of 1982 when he was on a recruiting trip to ETSU. Ayers was on Buddy Sasser's first staff, and Taylor was Sasser's first signee.

A few years later, Ayers was the Bucs' head coach and Taylor, a linebacker, had become captain of the defense as a senior.

When Taylor decided to get into coaching, Ayers hired him to work with the linebackers at Wofford after a couple of years as a graduate assistant at Southern Miss.

"Wofford's a great place," Taylor said. "Wofford's kind of my second-favorite team. I had a really good six years there. I stay in contact with a lot of the players I coached there."

Wofford's offensive coordinator Wade Lang was Taylor's position coach during his final year at ETSU.

Despite all the good feelings, Taylor will be heading into Spartanburg, South Carolina, this weekend with intent to beat Ayers and the Terriers.

"And trust me, I know he wants to beat me too," Taylor said. "That just comes with the territory. It comes with competing.

"We know before and after the game where our hearts are."

Taylor won't be the only one on the ETSU team making a homecoming. Kicker Landon Kunak will return to the stadium where he played high school football.

Kunak played for Spartanburg High School, and his team played its home games at Wofford's 13,000-seat Gibbs Stadium.

"Its almost going to be like deja vu, just at a higher level of football," said Kunak, who will be kicking off for the Bucs. "I never thought I'd be back in that stadium. It's going to be awesome. I'm going to feel like I'm home, very comfortable."

During Kunak's senior year, his team won a state championship and he says the stadium was packed for most of the games.

After kicking at the unique environment of Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend, Kunak says he's happy to be playing somewhere more familiar.

"The setting does matter because if you're comfortable, it's more of a mindset, more of a mental thing," he said. "I think it's really going to be to my advantage."

Kunak's father, Jim, works at Wofford as a campus safety officer, but for one Saturday he'll be pulling for his employer's opponent.

"I guarantee he's going to be rooting for me," Kunak said.

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