Catawba Football: Guard Taylor Fender
By Mike London
SALISBURY — He’s only a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, but Catawba is already pencilling in right guard Taylor Fender as a future standout on the offensive line.
“All the guys on the team like him,” offensive line coach Brian Hinson said. “So he’s got a chance to be that leader of the future for us.”
Fender fits the classic o-lineman profile. He’s huge, he’s strong, he’s friendly, he’s smart, and he’s almost bashful talking to the media about his athletic accomplishments.
A conversation with Fender goes something like this:
“Where are you from, Taylor?”
“And where’s that?”
“About 45 minutes from Asheville”
“So what’s the closest city?
“That still would be Asheville.”
Fender is definitely from out in the country, although he did help put Burnsville’s Mountain Heritage High on the map in 2009.
Mountain Heritage, not known as a football power, reached the 2A state championship game behind a running back named Casey Randolph, who had 3,000-plus rushing yards, and a mammoth offensive line.
The mightiest mammoth was Fender. There were numerous “Fender Benders” when he pulled and led the blocking for Randolph.
Asked if all 3,000 of Randolph’s yards came from rolling along behind his massive frame, Fender shrugged cheerfully.
“Well, I wouldn’t say all of them,” he offered modestly.
When Catawba coaches watched Mountain Heritage play against talented Tarboro in UNC’s Kenan Stadium, they were fascinated by the potential of Fender, who displayed surprising agility for a guy who resides in the exclusive 330-pound neighborhood. They figured he already was a devastating blocker in the running game, while his pass-protection skills could be polished.
“Seeing him pull like he did at his size, we knew he was a guy we really wanted,” Catawba head coach Chip Hester said. “Extremely athletic for such a big guy.”
Fender played in the East-West All-Star Game and was explosive enough to compete at the regional level in track and field in the discus.
Catawba had lots of competition in the recruiting battle for Fender, although the 6-foot-3 youngster says none of the big schools chased him all that hard.
“All the schools that really recruited me were from the SAC,” he said. “Mars Hill is 25 minutes from my house, but I just liked it best at Catawba. The school, the coaches, I just liked it best down here.”
He’s fit in well.
“He’s a guy a lot like Zane Gibson was,” said Hester, referencing a recent offensive line leader. “He’s one of our leaders in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He’s a very good young man, who is also a good player.”
Hinson, who was a two-time first-team All-America at Catawba in his playing days in the late 1990s, was a Fender fan from the start, but he wanted to see him somewhat lighter.
“Taylor was getting up around 350 pounds, and I thought if he was going to be able to play here and do the things we wanted him to do here, we needed him at 325 or 330,” Hinson said.
Hinson was worried when Fender returned home over the summer, fretting that Mrs. Fender’s fine cooking might tack on some pounds.
But he was pleasantly surprised. Fender didn’t starve himself, but he took good care of himself.
“You figure he’s going to go home and eat Mom’s cooking and put on more weight,” Hinson said. “I think he disappointed his Mom, though. He didn’t eat everything. He also worked in a lumber mill, and that helped. When he came back for this year, he was at 315.”
Fender said he realized he needed to trade a little size for added quickness, and now it’s paying off.
“We’re making progress as an offensive line, and he’s been a pretty big part of that,” Hinson said.
Like all the Indians, Fender took Saturday’s aggravating overtime loss to Mars Hill hard, but he’s enthusiastic about the future.
“Our offensive line is young,” he said. “But we’re learning now how to play with each other.”
NOTES: T.J. Morrison, who averaged 43.6 yards on seven punts, was named player of the week for special teams. … QB Jacob Charest, who ran for a TD and passed for two scores, was named offensive player of the week. … Catawba has scored in 194 consecutive games, the sixth-longest streak in Division II. … Hester is 5-4 against Wingate, Saturday’s homecoming opponent.