It's Sunday, the morning after, and the Florida campus is still.
The kegs are empty, and the kids are resting after a night spent
in immoderate celebration of Florida's 38-7 victory over ancient
rival Georgia in Jacksonville. No school today, no practice, no
nothing. And on the seventh day ye shall rest.
Yeah, but when? That's what Travis Taylor would like to know. He
lives in a modest apartment just off the Florida campus, and in
conversation he cites the Lord every 15 minutes or so, but he'll
be damned if he knows when he'll get eight hours of shut-eye.
Taylor, a 19-year-old sophomore, is a full-time student at
Florida, a full-time football player, a newlywed, a father. Last
Saturday, a day on which he caught five passes for 86 yards, his
daughter, Tionna, turned eight days old. On Sunday, while most
other Florida students were sleeping late, Travis was gingerly
cleaning Tionna's face after she spit up. "On the field he's
very aggressive, but at home he's very different," says Travis's
wife, Rashidah. "He'll pick up a baby wipe and say, 'I can't use
this on her--it's too cold.' He's a good husband. He's a good
He's a good receiver too. Taylor grew up in Kingsland, a small
town in the southern part of Georgia, but after his sophomore
year in high school he moved to Jacksonville to live with
relatives and to play in the well-regarded football program at
Ribault High. When recruiting time arrived, he wasn't
particularly torn between state loyalties. Although he visited
one other school, he wanted to go to Florida, and when Gators
coach Steve Spurrier came calling, off he went.
Last Saturday's game was a homecoming for Taylor. He had his
Jacksonville people there. He had his Kingsland people there. He
had his wife and baby at home, in Gainesville, watching on
Florida received the opening kickoff. Seven plays later, at the
Georgia 25, Doug Johnson dropped back and threw to the first
open guy he saw, Papa Taylor, who caught the 15-yard pass and
swiftly ran the remaining 10 yards into the end zone. Six-zip,
Gators. For most of the next 57 minutes, the Bulldogs, surprise
winners of last year's game against Florida, struggled to
contain Johnson, Taylor & Co. Although Taylor didn't score
again, he still leads the Gators (7-1 and ranked fifth) in
touchdowns, with eight, and is third for Florida in total
catches, with 24.
Rashidah was following the game with friends and relatives,
including her grandmother Beatrice Mitchell, and when Travis
scored, the two-bedroom apartment at the Gatorwood complex
erupted. Tionna marked the occasion by momentarily opening her
eyes. "Travis said he wanted to score a touchdown for the baby,
and he did," Rashidah says. Wasted no time doing it.
The young couple hasn't wasted much time, either. Rashidah, who
had compiled all the credits necessary for high school
graduation by the end of her junior year, grew up in Atlanta and
spent vacations in Kingsland, where she has relatives. Travis
grew up on the outskirts of Kingsland, a kid trying to keep up
with his older cousins, running faster than everybody else when
he had the ball, afraid the big kids would pummel him if they
caught him. Travis and Rashidah started going out together when
they were in ninth grade, a country boy and a city girl, and
they've been together ever since. Last Christmas they became
engaged. In February, Rashidah learned she was pregnant. "It was
two days before Valentine's Day when I found out, and I wanted
to wait to tell him, but I couldn't," Rashidah says. "He was
shocked and happy at the same time. The first thing he said was,
'I gotta call Daddy.'"
Daddy is Cornelious Taylor, who works for the Gilman Paper Co. in
St. Marys, near Kingsland. "When I first told him, he just kind
of smiled," Taylor says. "He figured I was kidding him, 'cause we
kid a lot. Then he saw I was serious, and he said, 'What do you
want to do?' I said, 'We want to have the baby. We're going to
get married.' After that he backed me up 100 percent."
Travis's mother, Helen Taylor--she never married Travis's
father; they just happen to have the same surname--had a
different view. She felt Travis and Rashidah were too young to
be married and too young to be parents. When the kids were
married, on June 12 in a small ceremony at a private home near
Kingsland, Rashidah's parents were there, and Cornelious and his
wife, Robin, were there. Helen wasn't. But she says her absence
wasn't intended to show her disapproval, and she was at Alltel
Stadium for the Florida-Georgia game on Saturday. When her boy
emerged from the stadium, she hugged him and said, "Good game,
He's a mother's baby. He's a kid. He's a man. Travis is 6'1",
skinny, fast. He wears braces on his teeth, a gold wedding band
on his finger and an orange shoelace around his wrist with the
letters wwjd (What would Jesus do?) stenciled on it. His
favorite class, he says, "is the one where we study bugs." He's
worried about how he and Rashidah will pay for Tionna's day care
while they continue their studies at Florida. (Rashidah is
majoring in aerospace engineering.) "It's going to cost at least
$75 a week, could be $150," Travis says. "Maybe Rashidah could
get a job as my tutor."
Travis is the first member of his immediate family to go to
college, and he wants to get a degree--he's still undecided
about his major--"so I have something to fall back on, because
the chances of making it to the NFL are 1 in 10,000." Johnson
says that Taylor runs patterns beautifully, with precision and
speed, and Spurrier says Taylor could mature into "a big-time
player." Taylor and the offensive line helped enhance Johnson's
numbers on Saturday: Johnson, who completed 25 of 34 passes for
298 yards, was well protected, and Taylor was always at the
appointed place at the appointed time.
Eight days earlier, on the afternoon of Oct. 23, Taylor was at a
hospital in Gainesville witnessing the birth of his first child.
"When the baby arrived, he just stared at her," Rashidah says.
"It was like, 'I can't believe that just came out of you.'"
He didn't cry. "But I felt like it," he says. The next day he
changed his first diaper and studied his playbook.
It was during summer practice before his freshman year that
Taylor made a critical admission about himself that has helped
the Gators substantially. After Florida won the 1996 national
championship, two junior receivers, Reidel Anthony and Ike
Hilliard, bypassed their senior years for the NFL. Catching the
ball almost surely would be a problem for the Gators. Then Taylor
told his coaches the ball looked blurry. He was sent to an
optometrist, George Kaplan, and fitted with contacts. Kaplan did
not stop there. He had Taylor practice wearing a pair of goggles
with thick lenses that distorted his vision. With the goggles on,
a ball thrown at his chest looked as if it were headed for his
head. The experiment, Taylor says, helped him "get into a zone"
and focus mentally on catching the ball. In games the contacts
helped him see the ball clearly.
The same could be said of the way he sees his life. He knows he's
not a typical 19-year-old, and he has no regrets about it. "We
don't feel like we're missing anything, we feel like we're
gaining," Rashidah says. "A lot of people our age are searching
for stability. We already have it."
Travis's coach at Ribault, Arthur Mallory, thinks that if any
19-year-old can be a student, an athlete, a father and a
husband, Travis can. "The first time I knew she was pregnant was
when I heard the kids saying, 'Travis is on lockdown, he won't
be going out anymore,'" Mallory says. "I had mixed emotions
because of his age, but I was happy for him. It could have been
with a young woman he knew nothing about, but instead it was
with a young lady he loves. I always felt that he was a man
among boys. Now I know he is."
When Taylor came out of the stadium on Saturday night, a little
throng attached itself to him, seeking his autograph and his
picture. He hugged his aunt and uncle, Leonard and Sandra
Taylor, the relatives he stayed with when he moved to
Jacksonville during high school. "I was 20 when I got married,
my wife was 18, we had a kid the same year," Leonard said.
"Twenty-five years later, we're still together. We made it. It
can be done."
By that point the Gators' bus was heading back to Gainesville,
and Travis, game ball in hand, was on it. He was heading back to
his wife and child and their little apartment. Florida is going
to Nashville this week to play Vanderbilt. Maybe he can get some
Rashidah. "We already have it."