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All-County Football: Vikings’ Smith caused havoc all season long

For two seasons, Taylen Smith made his name by sacking the quarterback and preventing touchdowns. So, when he found himself running toward the goal line with the football in his hands, the phrase, “Act like you’ve been there before” did not really apply.

The Warren Central defensive end did a forward flip into the end zone to finish off the touchdown and create a highlight that will last forever.

“That was not planned,” Smith said with a laugh. “Once I got past the quarterback and I saw (teammate Jashun Simon) on the side of me and there was nobody else, I got excited. I flipped and somehow I landed it. It blew up from there. I have never landed a flip, back flips or nothing. I landed it and turned around and was like, ‘Dude!’

“Jashun came and he tackled me and everybody fell on me. It was fun,” Smith continued. “It was just different. Once you loosen up and play the game, it’s a wonderful thing.”

That interception return against Brandon back in September was Smith’s biggest highlight, but far from his only one. He repeated the feat two weeks later against Germantown — minus the flip — and racked up eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss this season.

The versatile senior was also a run-stopper and could drop back in coverage as easily as he could blow past an offensive tackle. He was one of the primary drivers of one of the best defenses in Mississippi, which also made him the 2020 Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year.

“It means a lot to me this year,” Smith said. “Just from everything that has gone on, to have a good season and be recognized for different accolades and all that, it shows that if you work hard at something and you love to do something, and keep going and keep driving it can lead you anywhere.”

Smith had a great season in 2019, recording 50 tackles, six sacks and 18 tackles for loss, but worked hard in the offseason to expand his skillset. He improved his speed to not only be able to get a quicker burst as an edge rusher, but to be able to drop back in pass coverage as needed.

He finished this season with 53 tackles — in four less games — while increasing his sack total from six to eight.

“I felt this year I got faster. I had to get faster. The game was only getting faster and you had to get faster,” Smith said. “One thing I prioritized all summer was getting faster, and bigger and stronger, so I can be able to keep up with the linemen and wherever the coach wanted to put me at I would be able to have the speed and strength to play.”

Warren Central head coach Josh Morgan, who also calls the team’s defensive plays, said it didn’t take long to figure out different ways to notice Smith’s improvement and conjure up schemes to best utilize his talents.

“We dropped him in coverage, we’d send him on blitzes,” Morgan said. “He’s a dedicated young man. You want to see jumps from their junior year. You don’t want them to be that same player their senior year. He took it upon himself to improve, and improve he did. He’s just a versatile player, a productive player, and a difference-maker. He helped us win a lot of big games.”

Smith wasn’t all about athleticism, however. He showed with his only two interceptions of the season that he could also be smart and savvy.

In a 23-3 win over Brandon on Sept. 11, Smith rushed the quarterback like usual but then took a step back and deflected the pass into the air. He caught it and ran 29 yards for his first career touchdown, finishing it with a flip across the goal line.

Two weeks later he pulled off a nearly identical play against Germantown, again batting a low pass into the air and returning it for a 7-yard touchdown that was a key play in a 23-10 victory.
The second time, Smith said with a smile, he made a point to be more restrained with his celebration.

“I wanted to (flip). But certain points in games you have to act like you’ve been there before and show class,” he said.

After the Germantown game, Smith said both touchdowns were the result of film study and noticing the low passing angles of the two quarterbacks. Morgan joked that he’d have to get Smith to teach it to his teammates.

“We’ll have to bring him back to run some camps or something and show everybody how to do that,” Morgan said.

Smith added that he enjoyed scoring the two touchdowns more than his 14 career sacks.

“It’s the touchdowns,” he said with a laugh. “You get a sack and it’s like, ‘OK.’ But when you get a touchdown it’s more noticeable than a sack. There’s just something about a touchdown. Plus, it’s the only two I ever had.”

The football future of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Smith is uncertain. His college offers so far are mostly from Mississippi’s junior colleges. He plans to sort through them over the winter and make a decision during the February signing period. He believes, however, that this season shows he can be a valuable part of a college defense and play at the next level.

“It’s just a mindset now. Once you can keep up with people in your league, and in 6A, and the best of the best in high school football, there’s no doubt in my mind I can keep up with them at the college level,” Smith said. “I think I showed the coaches I can do more than just rush. When I played linebacker, it showed I had the ability to make plays at linebacker as well as get down and get dirty at D-end.”

In the meantime, he’ll celebrate a hard-earned honor as the Vicksburg Post’s 2020 Defensive Player of the Year. Smith is the third consecutive Warren Central player to win the award, but only the second defensive lineman since 2001 to get it. Vicksburg High’s Jomon O’Neal won it back in 2015.

“It’s a big accomplishment. Just the hard work I put in throughout the season and before the season, it’s paying off now,” Smith said. “My pops told me to work and everything would come to you. Everything fell into place this year.”

Vicksburg Post Defensive Players of the Year
2020 – Taylen Smith, DL, Warren Central
2019 – Malik Sims, LB, Warren Central
2018 – Lamar Gray, DB, Warren Central
2017 – Nick Anderson, LB, Vicksburg
2016 – Nick Anderson, LB, Vicksburg
2015 – Jomon O’Neal, DL, Vicksburg
2014 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
2013 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
2012 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central and Derrick Thomas, LB, Warren Central
2011 – Devon Bell, P, Warren Central
2010 – Lee Douglas, LB, Central Hinds
2009 – Mitchell Hoskins, LB, Port Gibson
2008 – Carlos Williams, LB, Vicksburg
2007 – Carlos Williams, LB, Vicksburg
2006 – Dekores Branch, LB, Vicksburg
2005 – Willis McGowan, DB, Vicksburg
2004 – Chico Hunter, DB, Warren Central
2003 – Humphrey Barlow, LB, Porters Chapel
2002 – D’Eldrick Taylor, DB, Vicksburg
2001 – D’Eldrick Taylor, DB, Vicksburg
2000 – Thad Henderson, DT, Warren Central
1999 – Thad Henderson, DT, Warren Central
1998 – Jason Myers, LB, Vicksburg
1997 – Josh Morgan, DB, Warren Central
1996 – Ivan Martin, DL, Warren Central
1995 – Chris Rainey, LB, Vicksburg
1994 – Eric Payne, LB, Warren Central
1993 – Michael Myers, DL, Vicksburg
1992 – Michael Myers, DL, Vicksburg
1991 – Chris Henderson, LB, Vicksburg
1990 – Ronnie Taylor, LB, Vicksburg
1989 – Robert Winters, LB, Warren Central
1988 – Robert Winters, LB, Warren Central
1987 – Jack Muirhead, LB, Warren Central

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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