Dallas Colleges: Garland Owls

FRISCO, Texas -- Darnell Taylor could have left Mesquite High to play college football for Wisconsin.

Instead, he respectfully declined the FBS for the opportunity to continue his football career with his twin brother, Darius, at Sam Houston State.

Just a few short years later, the decision has been justified with a player of the year honor and the chance to play for the FCS national championship.

The Taylor brothers have used their natural connection on defense to help what was a struggling Sam Houston State team turn it around as the Bearkats try to complete a perfect 14-0 season.

“They made a decision -- they wanted to go to school together,” Mesquite coach Robbie Robinson said. “Not everyone was willing to offer both of them, but Sam Houston did. And I think Sam Houston has definitely reaped the benefits of doing so.”

Darnell, the starting weakside safety, was named Southland Conference defensive player of the year and was selected to the AP FCS All-American team. He led SHSU with 118 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and three sacks.

Darius, a linebacker, wasn’t far behind with 78 tackles, despite being second on the depth chart. Both have also played a huge role on special teams as well.

“Really physical-type guys,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. “Darius is 255 pounds and runs a legit 4.6 40. .. He’s a physical specimen. Darnell is a very physical player and has a great nose for the ball.”

The twins united with another Dallas product, Keith Blanton, who shunned the FBS after transferring to Sam Houston State from Iowa State to become key contributors in the Bearkats' historical run.

On top of that, the trio shares a unique friendship.

Blanton played the majority of his high school career with Garland, which for 100 years has been the rival of the Mesquite Skeeters. Garland and Mesquite faced off for the first time ever in the playoffs this year, and Mesquite advanced with an area-round 24-21 overtime win.

Of course, the three Dallas natives spent a week talking smack with each other.

“[Blanton] was surprised actually,” Darius Taylor said. “I wasn’t. I felt comfortable about the team. I actually talked to our coach a few nights before the game and he said they were ready. He wished us good luck, and I wished him good luck, and we pulled it out.”

Blanton remains in denial to this day, no matter what was settled on the field.

“It ain’t nothing but a friendly rivalry, but we know that Garland got it,” Blanton said laughing. “Garland lost it, but we got it. They know overall Garland has the athletes.”

Blanton was a key weapon at Garland, with 402 receiving yards his senior year. But it was his blocking that left a lasting imprint on his high school coach.

In the area-round as a senior, Blanton threw a block downfield that released a fellow receiver to score a key touchdown in Garland’s 13-10 win over Tyler Lee.

Years later, it’s that secondary skill that is an emphasis amongst the Bearkats' receiving corps.

“Our receiving group takes blocking so serious,” Blanton said. “When one gets a killer block, we all just get hype. We actually have a competition on who can get the most knockdowns in each game.”

The Metroplex trio will have a large group of friends and family from Mesquite and Garland to cheer them in front of a capacity crowd Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. Blanton said nerves will settle once the ball is kicked off at 12:05 p.m.

“He’s the kind of guy that goes to a party and likes to dance up in front,” Darius said of Blanton. “That’s just Keith though.”

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