'Old Man' Taliulu embraces leadership role

PULLMAN – Washington State free safety Taylor Taliulu knows well that the college football-watching world is looking at his unit, the secondary, as the weak link on the 2014 Cougars. And for good reason: Taliulu is the lone returning starter. And his expected battery mate at the other safety spot, Isaac Dotson, has been sidelined much of fall camp.

Taliulu, though, is following the leadership lessons he learned from Deone Bucannon, Damante Horton, Anthony Carpenter, Nolan Washington and Casey Locker: grind each day and point the way to lofty goals.

“We want to be the best defense in the nation, if we can,” said the 5-11, 206-pound junior from Honolulu. “We’re going to practice every day like we’re the best, and we’re going to out there and show people we’re the best.

“Every game, go out there and do what you can to sacrifice for your team. Anything you can do for your team, do it, whether it’s on the field or off the field,” he said, referencing the approach handed down to him from his forebears in the secondary.

Now he’s working to set the tone for the plethora of youngsters around him.

The most notable among them right now is redshirt freshman Darius Lemora. If the season started tomorrow, he would be starting at strong safety in place of Dotson.

“I’ve seen a big improvement mentally,” Taliulu said of the 5-11, 182 pounder from Port Arthur, Texas. “Physically, he can do what needs to be done on the field during games. I think just the mental aspect, he needs to improve on, but I see him taking huge strides.”

Mike Leach has echoed Taliulu’s comments about Lemora. “He’s a real physical guy, real physical, maybe the most physical of all of them. When he plays disciplined, he does really good.”

Lemora says Taliulu has taken him under his wing on and off the field, and that Dotson also has been a great role model.

Taliulu, who started 10 games last season, said the job of leading is made easier because of those around him.

“It’s a responsibility but I’ve got great coaches and a great defensive unit and we all want to push each other to get better, and it helps every day when the whole defensive squad is pushing the defensive backs, the defensive linemen and the linebackers to get better.”

Taliulu has emerged as one of the biggest pushers of all.

“Taylor is a very mature guy on the field for his age,” redshirt junior linebacker Darryl Monroe said. “He’s pretty much like the quarterback in that secondary. He’s going to sit back there and make the calls. He’s going to make sure guys are there, so he is, as I see him, the big brother. He and Isaac Dotson are the big brothers of the secondary.”

Dotson played in seven games last season as a true freshman, primarily on special teams, and then staked a strong claim for a starting role in spring ball.

“Isaac’s a really good friend of mine,” Taliulu said.

The common ground between them extends beyond an affinity for knocking down running backs and receivers. They share a love of music, especially hip hop, which they sometimes play in the locker room.

“I don’t even know if he knows about it,” Taliulu said with a smile when asked what Leach thinks of hip hop. “Me and Isaac kind of keep it on the low.”

One thing he has no intention of keeping on the low is the profile of the Cougar defense in 2014.

“If I would say one word, I would say intimidating,” Taliulu said. “We want to be an intimidating defense, fly around, be fast and be smart.”

The Cougars' starting secondary right now looks to be sophomore Daquawn Brown and senior Tracy Clark at the corners, Taliulu and Lemora at the safeties. Between them, they total 16 career starts: Taliulu 12 and Brown four. A year ago, the Cougar secondary came into the season opener with a collective 71 career starts among them.

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