Walk-on Michael Taaffe wins significant reps for Texas football team

After the Texas defense secured a 34-27 win at Kansas State on Saturday, the usual suspects walked off the field.

Defensive lineman Keondre Coburn had just capped the 41st start of his college career by forcing the game-winning fumble. Linebacker Jaylan Ford, who won his second Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honor on Monday, bowed and kissed DeMarvion Overshown after falling for the ball. Veteran defenders such as Ovie Oghoufo, D’Shawn Jamison and Moro Ojomo were also present.

After the play, Michael Taaffe walked to the sidelines with a celebratory finger in the air.

The second player occupied the position of safety on this life-saving game. He finished with six tackles in the win at Manhattan, Kan.

“Michael did a great job. From the moment he walked onto campus, it was never too big for him,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You would never have known…he was an extra. You would never have known he was a real freshman.

“I think he has a natural leadership ability. The team gravitates around him. There’s a reason he’s on our board as a rookie, but it affects his game. He knows several positions. He knows the defense well. But it’s one thing to know what to do, it’s another thing to be able to play your games.”

Taaffe, a product of nearby Westlake High School, was originally recruited by colleges such as Brown and Colgate. He was once committed to Rice.

Texas defensive back Michael Taaffe (36) and defensive lineman Vernon Broughton bring down Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn in Saturday's 34-27 victory.  Taaffe was once committed to Rice but opted to join the Texas program as the preferred walk-on in 2021.

After the 2020 football season ended and Sarkisian was hired, athletes such as Taaffe were targeted as Texas sought to bolster its walking program. He announced he would join the Longhorns as a favorite extra just days before signing day in 2021.

“(I’m) just a guy who’s going to outdo anybody and be in the facilities 24/7,” Taaffe told the American-Statesman in 2021. “I’m maybe not not the fastest or the strongest, but a guy that’s going to learn the defensive mindset and whatever Coach (Blake) Gideon tells me to do.”

After:How the Texas Longhorns ranked in their 34-27 win over Kansas State

At first, Taaffe’s greatest contributions weren’t recorded on the stat sheet. He didn’t even play a game last season. But Taaffe sits on UT’s board of directors, and he reportedly hosted Arch Manning, a five-star quarterback, on a recruiting visit.

Taaffe has seen more playing time recently. For the season, he compiled 21 tackles and one pass breakup. And Texas safety Jerrin Thompson described his teammate as a “special teams guru.”

Westlake's Michael Taaffe celebrates an interception during the second half of the Chaps' 52-34 victory in the 2021 Class 6A Division I state championship game. The quarterback on this play?  Current Longhorn Quinn ewers.

In the second quarter in Manhattan, Taaffe escaped a 310-pound Wildcats offensive lineman to blow up a run play. (In the next snap, however, he missed a tackle on wide receiver Malik Knowles’ 62-yard reception.) During the final series of the game, Taaffe never left the field.

“Taaffe is a very flexible player,” Thompson said. “He’s very smart, he’s confident and he cares about the game, and that’s what separates Taaffe. He really loves the game.”

The last time Taaffe received this much playing time he was a senior at Westlake. During his junior and senior seasons, he was named the defensive MVP of the Class 6A State Championship game. He ended his career with a 52-34 win over Southlake Carroll and even had a viral one-handed interception. That turnover came at the expense of current Texan quarterback Quinn Ewers.

So, is Taaffe talking right in the locker room of this room?

“I think it was me who brought it up first,” Ewers said. “It wasn’t even him. I was just like, I had no idea you could jump like that. It’s fun, we laugh about it all the time.”

After:Texas, Set to Host TCU and “College GameDay,” Now Has the Opportunity to Really Shine

Taaffe’s play helped the Longhorns overcome recent injuries in the secondary. Sarkisian said Monday that first-year cornerback Jaylon Guilbeau will likely be sidelined for a few more weeks. Senior safety Anthony Cook played with a cast on his broken arm in the Kansas State win, and his reps were limited, but Sarkisian said: “Hopefully we can get more shots of him on Saturday. .”

This week, No. 18 Texas will host the No. 4 TCU. Led by quarterback Max Duggan, the TCU’s passing offense ranks third in the conference and 22nd nationally with 289.0 yards. per game.

Saturday’s game

TCU #4 at #18 Texas, 6:30 p.m., ABC, 104.9

About Betty J. Snyder

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