Kelvin Taylor’s career in Gainesville has hardly gone as he thought it would after two seasons. During a record-breaking high school career, Taylor carried the ball 1,158 times in five seasons (he played varsity as an eighth grader), averaging just over 21 carries a game. In two seasons playing for the Florida Gators, Taylor has just 227 carries, less than he had in any season since his freshman year of high school.
Taylor came to Florida with as much hype as any player could have. He not only broke a 60-year old national record for rushing yards in a career, he was also attending his father’s old stomping grounds and even decided to wear pop’s old jersey number.
The bell cow for four years in high school, Taylor grew frustrated with his role in Florida’s offense and retweeted a few fans that had taken to Twitter to complain about how Taylor was being used.
Taylor carried the ball 116 times as a sophomore, just five more carries than he received as a freshman and 50 less than junior running back Matt Jones. However, with Jones now carrying the ball for the Washington Redskins, Taylor is the defacto starter at Florida and he feels that he’s waited long enough for this opportunity.
“I felt like it’s been time for me. It’s just now, like I say, perfect timing so I’m just ready for season time,” he said. “That’s it. By season time, you guys will all see it so I’m just ready for that.”
Taylor’s first real chance to show the coaching staff that he can be the back he was in high school came on Friday when Head Coach Jim McElwain and the Florida Gators had their first scrimmage of fall camp and the junior didn’t get stage fright.
“I thought Kelvin Taylor played really good today [Friday],” McElwain said. “For the first time since we’ve been here, he didn’t just try to run everything to the sideline. He actually stuck his foot into the ground.”
That seems like a novel concept, but old habits diehard. In high school, Taylor was bigger, stronger, faster, and quicker than the players who tried, hopelessly, to stop him. He didn’t necessarily have to run north and south because he could make people miss, or simply out run defenders taking poor angles, beating them to the sideline before turning up field. That’s not going to cut it in the SEC where linebackers look like defensive linemen and run like cornerbacks.
“We’ve been working on this little concept: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” quipped McElwain. “I thought he got that today. It was good to see because he’s struggled with that.”
Coming into this season Taylor knew he would be the starting running back. Rather than resting on his laurels and assuming the job would be handed to him based on his age, Taylor, with the help of his father, worked on his mental approach.
“Knowing that you’re the starter is a different mentality and you just have a different approach about the game,” he said. “How you carry yourself in film, how you write down notes. Just little things about being a pro, that’s one thing my father always told me.”
The younger Taylor won’t end up with more career rushing yards that his father had at Florida (3,075 yards) but that doesn’t mean that Taylor has given up chasing his dad.
“Really to just go out there and try to have a better junior season than he had, and I’ll be all right,” Kelvin said. “If I can do that, I’ll be perfectly fine if I can have a better junior season than my father had.”
Fred Taylor rushed the ball 104 times for 629 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. That might be setting the bar low for Kelvin, especially considering how McElwain has used his running backs during stops at Alabama and Colorado State.
At Alabama, McElwain’s always had a clear number one tailback with his leading rusher carrying the ball at least 41-percent of the team’s total carries in three of the four seasons he was offensive coordinator. At Colorado State, McElwain had two running backs split carries down the middle (117 carries to 116) but after that the leading rusher carried the ball on 49-percent and 44-percent of every rushing attempt in a season. Over the last two seasons, the Gators have rushed the ball 999 times and Taylor’s 227 carries is just 22%.
Taylor proved that he could be the bell cow in high school, averaging more than 20 carries a game, now he’s just waiting for the opportunity to be the featured back once again.
“The way coaches are putting me in positions to make plays,” Taylor said. “I’m just looking forward to it. Coach Nussmeier, he’s an awesome coordinator. The guy knows exactly what he’s doing so I’m just happy and looking forward to making plays.”