ATLANTA — Cooper Taylor said he feels even faster than two years ago, when he was Georgia Tech’s fastest player.
Perhaps the more important news is the 6-foot-4 Taylor also is bigger and stronger as he makes his comeback from a heart condition that required surgery and forced him to miss most of the 2009 season.
Taylor said his high metabolism has always made it difficult for him to gain weight. He says he weighed only about 185 pounds as a freshman in 2008 and is up to 220 as he competes for a starting job at safety.
Taylor missed the final 11 games last season after being diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. He had surgery in November to restore normal rhythms in his heart, according to medicinenet.com.
Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome is characterized by abnormal electrical pathways in the heart.
He was granted a medical redshirt and is a third-year sophomore for 2010.
Taylor’s father, former Georgia Tech quarterback Jim Bob Taylor, said the family endured “a scary day” at Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital when the heart procedure, expected to last about three hours, instead lasted most of the day.
The surgeons accessed the heart pathways through Taylor’s groin in the outpatient procedure.
“They kept saying ‘We’ve got to go back in,’” said Jim Bob Taylor. “I thought gosh, what else are they going to find?
“We thought maybe it would be no problem and he’d be back in practice in maybe a week. With it being that long, he just lost a ton of weight. It was a long process.”
Taylor, who had been about 205 pounds for the start of the 2009 season, lost about 20 pounds, back down to about 185. He returned for spring practice and suddenly found it easier to add weight.
“I tell him it’s probably a blessing that it happened because it gave him a year to mature,” said Jim Bob Taylor, who started in the 1982 season. “He needed to get bigger and lo and behold that year off helped him. He’s about 20 pounds bigger than he’s ever been.”
Taylor said he has gained confidence along with more muscle. He ran the 40-yard dash in about 4.3 seconds two years ago, the team’s fastest time, and says he feels even faster now.
He missed about a week with a sprained knee but was back for Monday’s practice.
“Once I made it through spring I was like OK, I’ve got that behind me,” he said. “When I hurt my knee I was like ‘Uh oh, I don’t want to be hurt again.’”
Taylor didn’t want to miss practice time and fall behind Jarrard Tarrant, Mario Edwards and Isaiah Johnson in the competition for two starting spots at safety.
“You could tell he was hungry to get back on the field,” said senior linebacker Brad Jefferson. “He’s been doing extra work to get his injury better. You saw a sense of urgency there.”
Coach Paul Johnson said Monday Taylor has made a strong return after missing most of last season.
“I don’t think it’s been hard for him,” Johnson said. “He looks good to me.”
Taylor looked like an emerging star as a lanky defensive back in 2008. He started only three games but ranked second on the team with 69 tackles. He forced two fumbles and had an interception. One of his highlights was a team-leading nine tackles in the Yellow Jackets’ win at Georgia.
Taylor added another interception while starting three games in 2009 before his diagnosis.
New defensive coordinator Al Groh, the former Virginia coach, said Taylor hasn’t backed down from the competition.
“He’s certainly not at any disadvantage,” Groh said.
There have been no limitations on Taylor following the surgery.
“Certainly all the outward indications, all the things that we see, he’s very comfortable with himself and his circumstances,” Groh said. “He definitely feels as if that’s behind him.”
Taylor said he is “very much” looking forward to having more force behind his hits this season as the defense adjusts to Groh’s 3-4 scheme.
“I’m just excited about our defense as a whole and watching guys develop,” said Taylor, who added he likes the new aggressive scheme.
“That’s what I like to do, just chase the ball,” he said. “As a defense that’s what coach Groh instills, to compete on every play and chase the ball until the whistle is blown. That’s our new mentality, just flying around and playing fast and physical football.”
NOTES: Jefferson and senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt have been named team captains. “I think they understand what the role is and what they need to do,” Johnson said. “The older guys need to be leaders. It’s always a work in progress.” ... Johnson said running back Chris Jackson, who transferred from Alabama, will miss the season with a partially torn Achilles.