Annapolis football coach Roy Brown didn't think running back Shawn Taylor's body was built for taking punishment, and he was right.
After six games, it's apparent that Taylor was made to dish it out.
The 5-foot-5, 160-pound senior has rushed for 574 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 carries and has averaged eight tackles as a starting inside linebacker.
He is a big reason why the Panthers are 5-1 overall and the only unbeaten team in the Anne Arundel County 4A league at 5-0.
"I thought he could be a starter, but the only question was his size," Brown said. "He has a quick start and he's a hard runner, but his size was a big question mark. We thought he'd be taking a beating, but we've faced some pretty good defenses and he's taking the punishment. It really doesn't seem to bother him."
What did bother Taylor more than anything was sitting out last season. After playing on Brown's varsity squad as a sophomore, Taylor's family moved to Severn, and he spent his next two semesters at Old Mill.
Steadily declining grades at Annapolis made Old Mill a welcome change for Taylor, whose attention in the classroom had been diverted more and more by his friends. However, the transition to a new school and a new environment had an even more negative effect on his grade point average and led to ineligibility last fall.
It was then that he made the decision to turn things around.
"Not being able to play was pretty hard on me," Taylor conceded. "I went and watched a couple of Old Mill football games, and it didn't make me feel too good. I kept thinking in my mind, 'I should be out there.' "
Time and improved study habits have helped, but Taylor knows he can't rest.
"If I learned anything, I learned that I can't let my grades go down," said Taylor, who plans to enlist in the Marine Corps after graduation. "I keep to myself more at school now. I still eat chow with my friends, but they see that I've changed, and they seem to understand."
With his afternoons free last fall, Taylor had a lot of spare time. He used it in the weight room, where he increased his squat to 505 pounds and his bench press to 285 pounds.
Last winter, he showed his versatility when he joined Annapolis' gymnastics team and captured the county title on the vault with an 8.6. He also performed in the free exercise and on the high bar, and if he stays healthy, he plans to compete in the all-around this winter.
He says that the tumbling has made his body more shock-resistant.
"Doing gymnastics enhances your flexibility, which helps your speed and your endurance," said Taylor, a slashing runner who covers 40 yards in 4.5 seconds. "Sometimes, when I have to jump over someone, I think my vaulting helps me, but the flexibility is what helps me avoid getting injured."
Aiding him is a veteran offensive line that includes tackles Brandan Tinker (6-2, 230) and Jeff Ogle (6-0, 235), guards John Victorio (5-10, 200) and Matt Deans (5-10, 180) and center Beau Watkins (6-2, 185).
"It's not the biggest line in the world, but they all come off the ball very well," said Brown, whose team is ranked ninth by the Baltimore Sun. "I knew our line was going to be the strongest part of our team, and they've contributed to a lot of Shawn's success.
"But Shawn's picked up a lot of yardage on his own. He's low to the ground, has great balance and great leg strength. He has very little fat on him. He's just a strong kid."