GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jeawon Taylor admits he expected last season to go differently for him.
He expected to be more just than a special teams contributor and sub late in blowouts. And he certainly didn’t anticipate ending the season with an injury, left awaiting surgery right when there might have finally been a bigger opportunity for him to get on the field.
“It was tough. Coming from high school you think you’re the man from high school, you think you’re going to be the man in college,” Taylor said Thursday. “Playing that special teams role, just figuring out what role you have to play for the team is kind of tough doing.”
That was then.
Now, Taylor is very much in the spotlight for the Gators, one of the players in the mix to replace veteran safety Marcell Harris after his season-ending Achilles injury.
While fifth-year senior Nick Washington is expected to fill one of those safety spots and senior Duke Dawson looks set at cornerback, most of Florida’s secondary picture remains blurry at this point. It’s unknown if standout sophomore Chauncey Gardner Jr. will end up at cornerback or safety, which of the six freshmen defensive backs will make a push for immediate playing time, etc.
When Taylor looks at that picture, though, he sees a clear opportunity.
“Sad for Marcell to go down, but when one man goes down another man has to get up. So I feel like it’s a big opportunity for me to show what I (bring) to the table,” he said.
Again, Taylor is left wondering if he missed that same opportunity at the end of last fall when Washington sat out the final three games with an injury and fellow safety Marcus Maye the final four. That’s when Gardner seized his opportunity, racking up 3 interceptions over the final three games and earning Outback Bowl MVP honors.
Taylor, meanwhile, had gone down in the middle of the first quarter against Florida State while blocking for a kick return when he collided with another player and landed on his right side with his arm and shoulder extended. The shoulder “came out of place,” he said, and he’d require surgery and need the winter and spring to recover.
He keeps an image of the moment in which the injury happened as a background on his phone for motivation.
“Take advantage of every opportunity. Never think that you’ll never not play because maybe if I wouldn’t have never got hurt (in the) Florida State game I probably would have been at safety just as well as Chauncey was,” Taylor said.
If he has his way this camp, he and Gardner will be on the field together when the season opens Sept. 2 against Michigan.
“Due to the freshmen at corner, I really do think I should step up and play safety so Chauncey can do what he do (at cornerback). He’s a great player,” Taylor said.
Taylor was held out of spring practice and says his shoulder wasn’t even 80 percent until May. He doesn’t feel that will set him back for 2017, though. He spent extra time in the playbook, learned from the team’s older players and feels the shoulder is where it needs to be now.
As he put it, “You don’t really earn your money in the spring. You earn your money in the season.”
Taylor says he and redshirt freshman safety Quincy Lenton were over at Harris’ house after he tore his right Achilles, ending his redshirt senior season before it began. They spent an hour or so together.
“He was down, but he always says, ‘God has a reason for everything,'” Taylor said.
Taylor, meanwhile, believes the patience he had to practice as a freshman, both during the season and in recovering from his own significant injury, has only made him even more motivated to make his mark this fall.
While he commiserates with his veteran teammate, he also knows the loss of Harris “just makes the window even bigger” for him to prove himself this season.
For now, though, that means trying to show every day that he deserves that starting job as the competition continues throughout the secondary.
“It’s close with everybody. You’ve got to go into practice every day, work. You can’t lack off no days,” he said.