During his Grand County High School days, Zane Taylor wasn't exactly always the life of the party.

While many of his friends went to hang out and have fun, Taylor often headed straight to the weight room. (Party at the barbell rack!) At times, his social life was squat — or squatting maybe.

The sacrifice and hard work didn't go unnoticed.

"I think that's one of the biggest things that got me into college, because in high school I didn't do a whole lot extracurricular-wise besides lifting after school," he said. "A lot of friends would go out and party, but I'd stay in the weight room and pump iron. I think my physical attributes are what interested the coaches more."

They still impress Utah's staff, said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham. Taylor's dedication to dumbbells — the ones in the weight room, not at teen parties — is one of the big reasons the bulky 6-foot-3 sophomore is projected to replace departed Kyle Gunther at the front and center of Utah's offense.

"He's got great size. He's 305 pounds and very thick," Whittingham said of his new center, who's taking first-team reps this spring. "He's tremendously strong in the weight room and he's got good field strength."

Taylor also has arms that look as big as telephone poles, which is why he leads the team in the popular 225-pound bench-press drill with 31 consecutive reps. His bench-press max is 405 pounds, and he also squats 550 pounds. In high school, he even power-cleaned 365 pounds as a junior.

"It was all worth it," he said after a practice this week. "I was doing it because I knew I couldn't afford to pay for college and I knew that's the way to go."

That muscular base will come in handy this fall when teams try to exploit the only new guy up front. All the other Ute linemen around him — Zane Beadles (LT), Caleb Schlauderaff (LG), Robert Conley (RG) and Dustin Hensel (RT) — return with starting experience in the trenches.

Originally recruited for the defensive line, the soon-to-be-20-year-old switched over to the hogs in his first fall camp. He redshirted the 2006 season and then saw special-teams action last year as a shield blocker on punts. Since then, he's continued to develop his snapping and offensive line play-calling skills. He's spent a lot of this offseason meeting with O-line coach Charlie Dickey and working on plays. Now he's trying to get the timing right with veteran quarterback Brian Johnson.

"A lot of the calls start with the center and the quarterback. So a lot of what I do is crucial to having a successful play," said Taylor, who was a defensive lineman and pulling guard in high school. "It was a little different at first, but I think I'm starting to sink into the position and starting to get a lot more comfortable. It feels like the right spot for me."

Junior Tyler Williams is the No. 2 center, but he's missed part of spring drills with a shoulder injury. Neli A'asa and Daniel Bukarau have also gotten snapping action in practice. But the starting job is Taylor's for now.

"It all starts with the snap. It's a very critical position...," Whittingham said. "Zane has done a nice job so far."

Except when it comes to being a party animal.


E-mail: jody@desnews.com