Being called the jack-of-all-trades is a compliment, any time you bring more than one thing to the table, be it in life or sports, you make yourself valuable. However, in a world where kids start specializing in a specific field, sport and even position, the danger of being labeled a jack-of-all-trades and master of none is real. Jaylen Watkins served in this role for the Florida Gators two years ago.
At the Division I level only 1.6% of football players will make it to the NFL but there isn’t a player at a school as prestigious as the University of Florida that doesn’t believe they will be part of that 1.6% and that can lead to players wanting to look out for themselves.
Marcus Maye was one of the top safeties in the country coming out of high school. He chose Florida over offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Tennessee and others. An Under Armour All-American, most thought Maye was a sure-fire three-year college player before he would be making his money on Sunday in the NFL.
His career didn’t start of the way most — Maye included — expected. He redshirted his freshman year only to earn a starting job as a redshirt freshman and lose it because of a blown coverage against Miami. He made nine starts during his third year on campus but still hadn’t reached his full potential.
Then a coaching changed the course of Maye’s story at Florida.
“Obviously Marcus is a big-time player,” defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan said of Maye. That’s not a quote the previous coaching staff would have yielded.
A fresh start is exactly what Maye needed and when the Florida Gators coaching staff got a chance to see Maye’s combination of size, speed, quickness, strength and ability for themselves they knew they had a player who could help them in the secondary.
Maye quickly earned a starting role as the starting safety but when Florida suffered losses at linebacker, cornerback and safety Maye was asked to be selfless and play multiple positions. He’s played safety, nickel, and even linebacker in Florida’s dime package, something they’ve had to utilize more in Alex Aznalone’s absence.
“I feel like closer to the ball there’s more action,” said Maye. “You can be in the running game and once they spread out five-wide, we’re covering as well. Pretty much doing both — covering and in the run.”
Rather than sulk because he isn’t being allowed to just focus in on one position and hone his craft there, Maye has made the most of this opportunity and his effort isn’t lost on the coaching staff.
“He’s sure taken to it,” Jim McElwain said on Monday. “The [Kentucky game], he made three tackle-saving plays that were ready to get broken for big ones. This game was no different. He stopped their quarterback, Dobbs.”
An older player, Maye has learned the hard way what it takes to be able to make an impact on Saturdays. Everybody wants to hear their name called on Saturday, to have fans cheering for them during the game but a lot of players don’t want to commit to working on Sunday through Friday to make that Saturday dream a reality.
Maye has taken a leadership role in the secondary. With his firsthand knowledge on what happens when you don’t prepare the way the coaching staff expects you to during the week, he’s taken the time to mentor the younger players around him.
“Marcus has done a great job of being a tutor for the younger guys in terms of, I’ve walked in and he’s actually teaching on the board,” Callahan said of Maye. “All those guys with the IPad and the lounge areas we have set up for them. It’s very inviting to sit there and watch film.”
With Anzalone out again this week and Ole Miss’ SEC leading passing attack coming to Gainesville, Maye will once again be needed to play all over the field and continue to make plays for the Florida Gators on defense.
“Marcus is really playing well, and I think that’s attributed to his practice habits,” said McElwain. “It’ll be interesting to see if he can consistently do it, game in and game out. But certainly these last two games he’s done a heck of a job. I’m glad you saw that.”