For two years, Taylor Stowe’s job was to protect the quarterback. Now, there’s nothing he enjoys more than putting an opposing signal caller on his back.
A starting offensive lineman for the top-ranked Red Elephants (7-0, 3-0 Region 7B-AAA) since his sophomore year, Stowe was asked during spring practice to make the switch to the defensive line and replace the three graduated seniors that anchored Gainesville’s defense in 2008.
“We’ve had three or four kids really step up,” said Gainesville defensive coordinator Jim Pavao, referring to Stowe, Thomas Niles, Kevin Hall and Tim Rucker. “They all filled some really big shoes and for them to jump in like they have is a pleasant surprise.”
But no coach is surprised at Stowe’s success. The 5-foot-10, 186-pound lineman is tied for the team lead with four sacks and two hurries and is one of the main reasons that Gainesville’s defense is holding opposing offenses to just 80 yards rushing, 74.7 passing and 6.4 points per game.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Gainesville head coach Bruce Miller said of Stowe’s season. “He keeps getting better and better and plays so hard that if he makes a mistake, he’ll make up for it.
“Everything he does is all out,” he added. “I could ask him to take the trash out of my office and he’d sprint.”
That high energy made Stowe a perfect fit for defense, and despite having a wealth of practice and seven games under his belt, he’s still getting used to his new role.
“It’s different,” said Stowe, who has 46 tackles on the year. “The biggest thing is watching the offense on Friday nights because I’m so used to being out there with them.
“I miss it, but I like playing defense too,” he added. “I like to have fun on Friday nights and nothing’s more fun then getting a sack.”
Unlike his cohorts on the defensive line, Stowe has a little inside information when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
“He knows what an offensive line and the pass protection should be doing,” Pavao said. “We anticipated the level that he’s been at. He’s a good football player.”
Modest too, as Stowe won’t take all the credit for the defensive success, that honor goes to the linebacking corps of Alberto Sanabria, Thomas Sprague, A.J. Johnson and Grant Simmons.
“We have some talent, especially at linebacker,” Stowe said. “You do your assignment up front and you know that the people behind you can make plays.”
Miller believes that both units are responsible for each other’s success.
“They keep people off the linebackers so they can run and make plays,” Miller said. “And I’d hate to be a quarterback with Stowe coming after me. With him, Hall and Niles...it’s hard to get away from them.”
That cohesion on defense, along with an offense that is averaging 46 points per game, has the Red Elephants poised for a deep run in the Class AAA state playoffs, but Stowe knows his team has plenty of work left to reach the goal of winning a state title.
“If we keep working we can be really good,” he said. “We can’t hang our hats on past wins, we have to keep going out there and getting more.”
Gainesville will have a chance to get one more win and improve to 8-0 when it travels to Ellijay at 7:30 p.m. Friday to take on the Gilmer Bobcats.