- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Michael Taylor is like any student about to embark on his final year of college. Time has flown fast, and there's a sobering finality about being a senior.
The Florida linebacker is more serious. He has his priorities lined up.
For his last season in orange and blue, Taylor isn't worried about being first team or second team. He's just focused on the whole team and getting the Gators back to their winning ways.
"Mike in our mind is a starter for us," Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Thursday. "Yeah, he does reps with the ones, the twos and all over the place. He's one of our most experienced guys obviously. Mike knows the defense really well.
"Talking about a leader and a valuable guy, you can't say enough about Mike Taylor for us."
It all stems from Florida's 4-8 record last fall and the soul searching that naturally occurs as a result. Looking back, some of the Gators have said there was no leadership last season.
"Wrong kind of leadership," Taylor said. "More vocal, rather than action. You know, we need action rather than just people saying what they're going to do or just telling people what to do.
"Guys will try to be vocal leaders and try say every word in the dictionary, but you can do it all you want if you're not setting the right example."
At this point in a spring full of burgeoning optimism, there's less of a need for speeches. To a man, the Gators say they're more focused on closeness and leading by example.
"When I came in, I was kind of lost in the system," Davis said. "He reached out to me and he pulled me along. Once I got on my feet, he was a guy that I could always still lean on and definitely go to if I'm not seeing things right.
"If I need somebody just to talk to about anything, Mike Taylor is that guy for me. I really love him and appreciate him for that."
By the end of his freshman season, Davis made a splash and even got into the starting lineup. A few months later, Taylor speaks with a sense of pride when he tells people to look for Davis to make an even bigger impact this fall.
The same thing is happening with McMillian, whom Durkin calls one of the most improved players on the team this spring.
"[Taylor] has been great for D-Mac and some of the younger guys, because Mike is that type of guy," Durkin said. "He takes time to bring another guy along. He has spent time with Daniel off the field, too."
With so much of Taylor's time and effort going to help younger teammates, one might think he was preparing to take a back seat. But Taylor is coming off of his best season after leading the Gators in tackles.
This spring in another story, however. It's as if being a senior has inspired Taylor.
On a team so badly in need of respected voices, the mantle of leadership has fallen squarely on his shoulders.
"Mike really did step it up," Davis said. "He always takes the game seriously and he always takes everything we do seriously. But this year, something feels different. Something feels different being around him, practicing with him, everything. I don’t know what it is. It’s too early to tell."
Perhaps it was the gut-punch of a 4-8 record that sharpened Taylor's approach. Perhaps it's just the natural way of things -- a senior knowing he has only so much time left on campus.
"I've been talking to coaches," Taylor said. "They say this is the best time of your life, so I'm just trying to take it all in and enjoy this time ... and yeah, have fun."