Football Fun Again For Taylor

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Playing defense at North Carolina is fun again. In fact, now when senior free safety Kareen Taylor wants to poke a little fun at John Bunting, he'll remind the ex-NFL linebacker of an old film clip he's seen of O.J. Simpson sidestepping a potential tackle by Bunting.

"He used to get on me when I would miss a tackle," Taylor said. "He would tell me to get down low and drive my feet. So when I brought up when he missed a tackle against O.J. Simpson, all he could do was laugh. He knows that stuff happens."

But when Taylor arrived in '03 after a prepping a season at Fork Union, the Carolina defense was no laughing matter – except to opposing fans. When the star-studded defense of 2001 began staffing NFL rosters, it left a personnel void at UNC that would take several years to overcome.

"My first year here, Coach Bunting wouldn't let us get away with anything," Taylor said. "He was hard-nosed back in the day, and some players aren't as tough as they were back then."

Taylor admits his experiences have made him tougher. He's also noticed Bunting's growth as a Division I coach over the same span of time.

"It wasn't fun then because I guess everybody was on different levels," Taylor said. "The defenses before us were made up of hard-nosed players. And we had to come together as individuals and play team football. That made us play fast, play smart and play hard.

"By my sophomore year everybody was on the same level. Everybody smiled together, we did stuff together, and that made us one unit."

Often times just before a member of his coaching staff will make a scholarship offer, Bunting will walk up to the respective recruit, look straight into his eyes and ask, "Do you love football?"

If to love something is to enjoy doing it, then Taylor's answer to that question was a loud and decisive yes.

"What's exciting about playing football here now is everybody is having fun," he said. "We're going to be a good defense this year, there's no doubt about that."

Taylor's level of play last season was more productive across the board than any other UNC defensive back. The team's third leading tackler with 61 stops, he had 4.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and also forced a fumble.

The Tar Heels return a wealth of skilled veterans to the secondary this season as well, including corners Jacoby Watkins (out for spring), Quinton Person, Bryan Bethea; and safeties D.J. Walker, Trimane Goddard (out for spring), to go with a youth movement led by Jermaine Strong, Bryan Dixon, Jordan Hemby and a '06 list of signees stocked with highly-touted defensive backs that will arrive in the fall.

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