After a year and a half of frustration due to how he was being used, and coming off of an emotional loss to LSU, Florida Gators running back Kelvin Taylor couldn’t hold it in any longer. After carrying the ball 15 times against Kentucky, Taylor earned just nine carrier for 12 yards over the next three games and he indirectly voiced his frustrations publicly.
Taylor retweeted two Florida fans who had questioned why he wasn’t running the ball more. Taylor, who wasn’t made available to the media following the loss, used the social media platform of Twitter to let everyone know he wasn’t happy.
It was a regrettable moment of immaturity, an act done in an instant that hardly defines Kelvin Taylor as a person.
To understand the frustration you need to know the whole story. Kelvin played high school football as an eighth grader at Glades Day. During the next four years he averaged 21 carries a game, totaling 10,938 yards. He was the bell cow, the star player, and the guy who made the offense run.
When he committed to Florida he wasn’t just committing to a school, he was committing to a legacy. His father, Fred Taylor, was an All-American at Florida and went on to an All-Pro career in the NFL. Taylor picked No. 21 when he got to Gainesville, Fred’s number. The talk around the program was that Kelvin would be better than Fred and the fact that he enrolled early would mean he would start chasing his dad early as a freshman.
Taylor carried the ball 111 times as a freshman, not bad work for a first year player, but he only played in three of the first five games, totaling just six carries. It wasn’t until Matt Jones suffered a knee injury against LSU that Taylor saw his carries increase, but he still played second fiddle, for the most part, to Mack Brown during a 4-8 season.
As a sophomore, Taylor averaged just 4.2 carries per game through the first five games (including LSU). His carries increased to 12 in a loss to Missouri, but he still hadn’t had his moment in Orange and Blue yet.
At 3-3, The Florida Gators entered the World’s Largest Cocktail Party with a coach on a hot seat, an unrealistic chance to win the SEC and looked to be heading into a fourth straight loss to their cross-state rival.
The distaste for one another causes Florida and Georgia to play on a neutral site, in Jacksonville, Florida. It just so happens to be the place where Fred Taylor played for 11 years as a professional with the Jacksonville Jaguars. His father’s name is emblazoned all throughout the stadium as one of the Jaguars’ best players.
Just another reminder of the expectations that Kelvin had yet to live up to and a reminder of just how frustrating the past year and a half had been. Then, taking a page out of Coach Hermon Boone’s playbook from Remember the Titans, Florida dialed up a simple gameplan to beat Georgia. They were going to run power, and they were going to run it until their feet bled.
“Oh my gosh, it was one of the funnest games I’ve ever played in,” said Taylor. “I could say just because my father played there. I remember going there when I was little playing in that stadium. When I was little, watching my dad playing in that stadium. Now, me getting a chance to go out there and play in the same stadium that my father played in, it’s an awesome experience.”
Taylor took carry after carry that Saturday afternoon. Florida’s coaches had stopped him before, but nothing would stop him that day. Taylor carried the ball 25 times for a career-high 197 yards and two touchdowns. It was his breakout game, the moment that fans, his family, his father and he had been waiting to have since the first time he carried a football.
The moment was fleeting, however.
Taylor rushed for just 168 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the season. It seemed, that his moment in the sun had passed, until the coaching staff flipped and Tim Skipper took over the running backs.
“He’s a guy that every day is asking me ‘what can I do to get better?’ Even if he feels like he had a good game, he’s going to talk about that one or two reps where it wasn’t exactly the way we wanted it to be,” Skipper said of Taylor. “He has really bought into the team and getting better every day.”
With a new coaching staff and a couple of upperclassmen out of the way, Taylor entered his junior season in a familiar role. He was once again the bell cow, the guy the offense could turn to and the running back that would be given the ball when the game was on the line.
Taylor was taken out of the season opener when the game got out of hand and only carried the ball eight times. He averaged 6.75 yards per carry and scored a touchdown in what turned out to be his lowest carry total of the season so far.
There was the sideline incident with Jim McElwain in the ECU game — something both parties moved past far quicker than most in the national media did — but McElwain hasn’t shown a grudge for the throat slashing celebration that showed just a glimpse of that previous retweet immaturity from a season ago. Excluding the season opener, Taylor is averaging 20 carries a game and has seven touchdowns (eight total) on the season and the most noticeable change is his running style.
Taylor’s propensity to juke and dance in the backfield drew comparisons to another former Florida Gators running back; not his father, but Gator Great Emmitt Smith. Not for what Smith did in Orange and Blue, or the career he had with the Dallas Cowboys, but rather his dancing prowess that won Smith season three of Dancing with the Stars.
“One thing talking with him was ‘hey, you’ve got to run behind your pads more,’” Skipper said of Taylor before continuing on to explain more. “A lot of guys will run high and now you’re not running behind your pads. You’ve got a little forward lean and your pad level is down, your shoulders are meeting the defender in the hole with your shoulders down, meeting him right in his shoulders, that’s when you’ve got that good pad level.”
He’s come into his own. The junior season that Taylor is having has given him his own name. Fred’s former teammates and older Gator fans would call Kelvin “Little Fred”, or “Fred’s son.”
25 carries for 197 yards against Georgia changed that. The way Taylor has run hard, accelerating through the hole and the way he has taken on defenders this season are building his own legacy at the University of Florida.
This Saturday, Taylor will go back to the scene of his best collegiate game. He’ll see his dad’s pictures on the walls of EverBank Field and he’ll spot his name and number up on the stadium when he’s on the sideline. It will be another opportunity for Kelvin to move out of his father’s shadow, another opportunity for him to continue a dream season.
“I can’t wait. I can’t wait until Saturday,” Taylor said. “LSU game, I really didn’t have a good game like I wanted to but I’m going to redeem myself this week.
“I can’t wait.”