Oct. 27, 2011
By Lauren Chval
Notre Dame alum Sam Young ('10) has been in New York for the past month ever since he was claimed by the Buffalo Bills. He tells offensive tackle Taylor Dever, "It's starting to get cold up here."
When Young was an offensive lineman for the Irish, he set the record for most career starts at 50 games. Dever, just a year younger than Young, played behind him for three years.
Dever is proud of the fact that he and Young, who served as his mentor, still talk regularly. He will tell you that the two of them were and to this day remain close, but it is also clear that it hasn't always been easy for Dever when playing time was on his mind.
"It was tough because, as with all division one athletes, in high school you were always playing," Dever explains. "Coming here, the biggest thing I discovered was learning to take a role on a team. You're not going to always play when you come in as a freshman."
Finding a role is exactly what Dever has done during his time at Notre Dame. He did not see playing time as an emerging freshman, which gave him the opportunity to return in 2011 -- his fifth year in the program -- to really be a leader for the Irish.
He cites winning the starting position after Young left as one of his proudest moments during his career. It was "a good battle," as Dever recalls. Those three years were all about learning for him -- picking up the speed of the game and what the program is really about -- but it did not guarantee the then-senior the starting spot in the 2010 campaign.
That, he had to earn on the field.
Being a part of Notre Dame is something that means a lot to Dever, though, considering the Nevada City, Calif., native spent his childhood Saturdays watching the Irish. He was a fan long before he hit the sign or ran through the tunnel, but those were moments he thought about for a long time before they happened.
"You build it up in your head," Dever expresses. "You think about what it's going to be like. Everyone knows what the tunnel looks like and what the sign looks like -- you think about how it's going to sound. But until you actually live it out, you just can't know. It's crazy."
Those moments and traditions carry a lot of weight with Dever. It is especially difficult for him to wrap his mind around the fact that the Boston College game will be his last time running out of the famed tunnel.
"I don't even want to think about it," he confesses.
Dever is a long way from the kid he was when he first stepped onto campus. In fact, he walked across the graduation stage last May, and he will be the first to say that, if possible, his marketing degree means even more to him than his accomplishments on the football field. Notre Dame, Dever says, has forced him to become a man.
"I think with football, and with life as well, you're going to face adversity," Dever states. "Not everything is going to happen the way you want it to. You go through so many things that require you to grow up. You can either face the task at hand or you can complain about it. If you don't face the task at hand here bad things happen."
But Dever and the offensive line have undeniably faced the task at hand so far in `11. Through the first six games of the season, Notre Dame is scoring eight more points, making nearly five more first downs and rushing for an additional 87 yards on average in comparison to last year. The linemen have also allowed fewer than half the sacks of last year.
This year has required them to grow up.
Fellow fifth-year senior Andrew Nuss has been Dever's roommate for three years and his best friend long before that. They have matured together over the last four years, and Nuss says now it is Dever who leads others.
"He was patient. He had to be. When we first got here, he was kind of quiet," Nuss laughs. "But as a fifth-year senior, he's just stepping up. When we were growing up, he had Sam Young to look up to, and now it's a reversal of roles. People look up to him."
That is what Dever hopes to do. Sophomore Christian Lombard is in the same position Dever was as a freshman -- playing behind a more experienced player. Dever talks about Lombard's play with excitement, and it is obvious that he looks to guide Lombard the way Young did him.
"The improvements Christian has made on the football field -- I have never seen someone improve that fast," Dever says proudly. "Even from the beginning of fall camp until now. He's going to be a good player on the offensive line in the future."
Lombard himself yearns to step onto the field on game day, as any underclassman does. He recognizes, though, that Dever will not be around forever, and now is an opportunity for him to really benefit from being around Dever on an everyday basis.
"I've learned a lot from him since I've been here," Lombard says. "He's always helped me and understood that he's not always going to be here. He has this season left and whoever is going to take that spot, he's going to try to help. He's a very selfless person in that sense."
The respect between Lombard and Dever is mutual, and both players say their relationship has extended beyond the football field into a friendship. Lombard insists it is clear how well Dever knows the ropes, and "everyone" looks to him for guidance.
Dever has high hopes for this season's freshman class and wants to leave a lasting impression on them as they move forward in the Irish tradition. He recognizes closeness with everyone, but the offensive line is obviously very close to his heart.
"The freshman class now, especially on the offensive line, has so many good guys," Dever describes with a smile. "As with any position, guys are going to be close, but the O-Line, allows us to share a special bond overall. We're all friends and we hang out outside of football, and I think there are definitely guys that look up to me the way I looked up to Sam."
Like Young, Dever wants to lead by example. He believes that in working hard and consistently, the younger players will then see what being Irish is about. The way Notre Dame does things, both in terms of football and academics, is "the right way," he says emphatically.
When pushed to reflect on what it will be like to run through the tunnel for the final time, he relents and admits it will be humbling.
"Having done it so many times, I think I've learned to appreciate it for what it is and not really take any game for granted," he says.
But after five years, it will be impossible to erase a presence like Dever's. His attitude, as Lombard says, is a selfless one. He wants his time at Notre Dame not to be about himself, but about what he can leave behind in the younger players. That is the role he has found with the Irish.
Dever can expect many phone calls from his protégés next fall.