By Rubin E. Grant
As Hoover won its first state volleyball championship in 2020 with the season of a lifetime and a tall, talented and deep roster, the Bucs also had a secret weapon.
Strength and conditioning coach D.J. Taylor was employed to keep the Bucs in top-notch shape, and he did just that.
“He was a huge reason for the success of our season,” Hoover volleyball coach Chris Camper said.
Taylor, a former football player at Homewood, was absolutely thrilled to see the Bucs roll to a 50-1 record and the Class 7A title with his help.
“That was awesome,” Taylor said. “I’ve been a part of championship teams when I played football at Homewood, but that was the first time I’ve been on the sideline for everything during a championship run. Everyone said they were the best team in the state, but watching their work ethic and seeing how they responded in the weight room, at practice and in their game performances was awesome.”
Taylor is working with the Bucs again this season as well as working for Blockout Academy, which he co-owns with his wife, Nevena Taylor, who goes by coach Nev. The academy is in Homewood and works with female athletes, primarily volleyball players, in age groups from 12-and-under up through college.
The academy also works with female athletes who compete in basketball, softball and even equestrian sports.
The name Blockout pays homage to the first team on which coach Nev played while growing up in Belgrade, Serbia, as Nevena Stefanov.
She began playing when she was 8 years old. At 14, she became a member of the National Youth Volleyball Team that won the Balkan championship. The Balkans is a region comprising 10 countries in southeastern Europe
At the age of 18, coach Nev came to UAB to play volleyball, arriving in the United States with only two duffle bags and some pocket money and speaking less than basic English. She was a setter for the Blazers and received numerous awards while also earning a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in clinical nutrition/dietetics.
After her playing career, coach Nev began coaching, primarily working with UAB summer camps. She founded Blockout in 2016 with the idea of it being a unique training facility for female athletes.
“It is a product of pure love for the game of volleyball, but not just that,” coach Nev said. “It is also a place where any athlete, regardless of their skill level, can pursue their love and passion for volleyball.
“We want to build skills and the mindset, including having respect for the coach and the game. We always work on fundamentals. We firmly believe in goal-oriented training, teaching key life skills – confidence, work ethic, problem solving, integrity, leadership and respect – to ensure future success of our student-athletes, on and off the court, in whatever they choose to do.”
DJ Taylor provides the strength and conditioning training.
“I am blessed to have this opportunity to work with my wife and provide elite level training opportunities to volleyball athletes in our area,” he said. “Volleyball strength and conditioning is similar to other sports. You want to improve performance and mitigate injuries to the lower body and shoulders and hips. Shoulder strength is important because you are hitting a volleyball repeatedly.
“A lot of the work I do is ACL prevention as well as getting them ready to return to the sport if they have had knee surgery. It’s multi-fold.”
DJ also is the founder and director of Athletic Foundations Inc, a nonprofit organization created to provide educational and training support to athletes, coaches, administrators, and athletic trainers in Alabama.