When Michael Taylor revealed that he had decommitted from Tennessee this past Wednesday, it was naturally assumed it was because coach Lane Kiffin pulled an about-face and jettisoned Rocky Top for Southern California.
But the truth is the fast-rising linebacker from Atlanta’s Westlake High School had already backed out before the Kiffins bolted. Taylor had silently committed to the Florida Gators a week ago Sunday before leaving his official visit to Gainesville. He went public with the news this past Sunday.
“I wanted to let the Tennessee coaches know and then all that happened with Coach Kiffin and everything and that delayed things,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Under Armour All-American told me yesterday. “I finally talked to coach [Lance] Thompson. He was the one who recruited me all along so he was who I really wanted to talk to. He was OK with it. He said he understood.”
No one player has seen his stock rise more than Taylor. Considered at the outset of recruiting as a smallish linebacker, the 6-foot, 200-pound Taylor earned MVP honors for the white team at the Under Armour All-America Game in St. Petersburg on Jan. 2. That was after winning the obstacle course competition in the Burger King Skills Challenge during the Under Armour practices in Orlando earlier that week and impressing throughout his exceptional quickness for a linebacker.
That he ended up pledging to Florida was somewhat of a fortunate coincidence for Taylor. He hadn’t really been on the Gators’ radar until Charlie Strong left to become head coach at Louisville to initiate a coaching exodus in Gainesville. Florida hired D.J. Durkin as linebackers coach and Durkin just so happened to have been recruiting Taylor for Stanford.
Durkin immediately came after Taylor and convinced him to come in for an official visit last weekend. Taylor, a California native, was blown away by the warm weather and palm trees — not to mention the depth chart.
“Usually you think that Florida has backups and backups,” Taylor said. “But it’s a great time to go there because they have only six linebackers right now and just lost Brandon Spikes. I want to step in and take over for Spikes. Plus, it’s Florida. Who wouldn’t want to be a Gator?”
Taylor was feeling particularly blessed after witnessing the chaos Kiffin’s departure created at Tennessee.
“Actually I was supposed to graduate early but wasn’t able to, so I would have already been up there,” Taylor said. “I was upset about [not being able to graduate early] at first. But now I’m thankful. There truly is somebody looking out for me. I’m just blessed.”