From the time they were six years old, hardly anything could come between twin brothers Darnell and Darius Taylor and football.
Even as their senior seasons at Mesquite High School came to a close, they knew what they were going to do next. Wherever they were going to play football, no matter at what level, the Taylors were going there together.
"That was the plan coming out of high school, to play together," Bearkats junior linebacker Darius Taylor said.
The Taylors received early offers from various Division II schools such as Abilene Christian, and a few from FBS (Kent State) and FCS (South Dakota State) programs that would have either split them up or sent them far from home.
But the old adage of being better late than never came true as Sam Houston State came calling a few weeks before signing day and provided the twins exactly what they were looking for and they found a place where they could stick together and the Sam Houston defense has reaped the benefits.
"Sam came late. It was about two weeks before signing day and they came and told us that they'd give us a chance to play together," Darius Taylor said. "We took it. Ever since we came on a visit, we've loved it here."
During their time with the Bearkats - with Darius playing linebacker and Darnell at safety - the defense has seen marked improvement.
Now Sam Houston is ranked among the top programs in several NCAA Division I FCS statistical categories and both stand high in the team's tackle totals. The Kats currently stand No. 16 in the national polls.
"The thing that's really neat about it is that these are two guys that really love playing football. I would say their greatest characteristic among both of them is they're both very tough and competitive besides being very good athletes," Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said.
"They've got excellent strength for their position. They've both got good size and very good speed. We play them in a lot of different areas, not just on defense. They're both really involved in the kicking game. I've seen marked improvement out of them in the short time that I've been here. They're two very competitive guys."
In the season opener against Western Illinois, Sam Houston's defense held the Leathernecks to a modest 216 yards of total offense. Two weeks later, the defense shut down a Central Arkansas squad that came into Bowers Stadium ranked No. 18 in FCS play. Darnell was voted Southland Conference "Defensive Player-of-the-Week" following the UCA win.
"I feel the sky is the limit for us. We havet good, young linebackers and a good secondary and a great defensive line," junior safety Darnell Taylor said.
Now the brothers are preparing for a series of three games that will set the tone for the rest of the season. Sam Houston plays host to UTSA Saturday, then takes on SFA in the 86th "Battle of the Piney Woods" at Reliant Stadium Saturday Oct. 8 before returning to Bowers Stadium for the 2011 homecoming tilt with Nicholls
In their third season at the college level, not much has changed for the Taylors as far as football goes.
"I've played with him my whole life. It's just the same as it was in high school," Darnell Taylor said. "He played linebacker in high school and I was a safety. It's the same, really. It's just a step up."
From playing together for so long, when Darnell and Darius Taylor are both on the field at the same time, they know they can rely on each other as they have different perspectives based on what the opposing offense is trying to do.
"He helps me out sometimes and I know, as a free safety, I can help them out with routes and stuff like that," the junior safety said.
"I know I can count on him at the end of the day. I know he's going to give his all and that I know he's going to do what he needs to do," Darius Taylor chimed in.
Sam Houston State travels to New Mexico to face the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision Lobos Saturday Sept. 24. The Bearkats return to Huntsville for their next home contest Saturday Oct. 1 when SHSU hosts an FBS opponent, UTSA's inaugural football team, at 6 p.m. in Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
Tickets for all Sam Houston State home games are available online now at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the SHSU athletic ticket office.
The ticket office, located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone at Bowers Stadium, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ticket office telephone number is (936) 294-1729.