HOOVER, Ala. — Senior Marcus Maye faced a difficult decision after the Florida Gators season ended in disappointing fashion in Orlando last season against Michigan.
The decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft or come back to school for one more year, was the question Maye had to answer.
To have this decision not only speaks volumes on the player, but getting to this point was something that most didn’t expect after September 7th, 2013.
That date is when Maye, a redshirt freshman at the time, was beat by Phillip Dorsett for a touchdown against Miami in Coral Gables, a play and moment that Maye recounts as the lowest point of his career. The play that Maye would like to forget, or even go back in time and correct, may just be what helped launch Maye into the rest of his career.
“It definitely helped me out,” Maye said at SEC Media Days. “ I remember it like it was yesterday. With that coaching staff, they kept pushing me and they never lost confidence me and I never lost confidence with myself. If you’re a defensive back and give up a touchdown, it’s not the end of the world. The next week I just went back to work, and just got more comfortable with the defense and understood it. I’ve just kept working since then.”
Maye got back to work. He improved his stats every year since then going from 16 tackles in 2013, to 62 in 2014 and finally 82 last season. The 82 tackles earned him first team All-SEC honors and a spot on the honorable mention All-American team by Sports Illustrated.
All of those awards and stats impressed NFL scouts enough to have Maye ranked middle of the pack for safeties in the 2016 NFL Draft, but when it came decision time Maye made the difficult choice to return to Gainesville.
“It was tough,” Maye said of his decision. “I sat down with my family and talked out the pros and cons about coming back or going. It was a family decision and I’m happy I did it. I’m ready to play. I’ve been working. I’m looking forward to my last year.”
Maye had some thoughts about fulfilling his childhood dream and entering the NFL draft but there was some doubt in the back of his mind that his family reminded him of.
“[His family asked] are you sure you want to do it and if you’re on the fence, if you’re not 100% on something I believe you shouldn’t do it,” he said of the conversations with his family. “ You should never go into anything 50/50. My mom was just making sure I was in it 100% or if I wanted to do it I’d do it, but if I didn’t, don’t do it. But having her and my brothers definitely helps out and made the decision at lot easier.”
Uncertainty over whether he truly wanted to leave heavily factored into Maye’s return to UF, but it was far from the only factor.
Maye, of course, wanted to prove to everyone that last year wasn’t a fluke for him on the field, but he has some unfinished business with his teammates in Atlanta.
“Definitely that (winning the SEC Championship), we were close and I know we have the ability to do it,” Maye said on motivation to return. “ And I just want to make myself a more complete player. Perfect my craft a little bit more. Help out my team make it to the championship and win a lot of ball games.”
In order for the Gators to win a lot of ball games in 2016 the team will need guys like Maye and linebacker Jarrad Davis to play a big part in things. Not only with their play but with the leadership portion as well, as many of the Gators vocal leaders on defense have gone on to the NFL.
Maye sees that and knows that he must step up to be a leader and to fill the shoes of now Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal.
“Yeah I have, (Keanu Neal) helped out a lot but obviously he’s gone, so I feel like I have more to say and getting everyone lined up and stuff like that,” Neal said. “But for the most part having everyone on the same page definitely helps out. I feel as if I have to step up to be a leader of this defense.”
Winning games will help Maye’s stock rise for the 2017 NFL draft, but NFL scouts also gave the safety some feedback to help him improve his stock this year.
Two of the biggest things Maye says he was told were that he needed to improve his coverage skills and to make more plays around the ball.
Maybe the biggest thing NFL scouts said was that Maye needed to learn to be more of a student of the game and to learn to play multiple positions in the secondary. That’s something that’s big for NFL teams, as they don’t carry as many players as college football teams do.
Being more of a versatile player is something that Maye should have no problem doing as new defensive backs coach Torrian Gray is huge on that.
“He wants everybody to know what everybody is doing. That’s what he teaches us,” Maye said of Gray. “That’s why he moves people around and stuff like that but he’s big on the safeties knowing what the corners are doing and the corners knowing what the safety is doing. So it just makes everyone be same page and makes it easier with communication and stuff.”
At the end of the day Maye and the Florida Gators should come out looking golden with the safeties January decision of this year.
Maye has already started the 2016 season off on a high note, as Monday he was named to the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe award giving out to the best defensive back in the country.