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Kelvin Taylor driven to succeed

2/15/2012

Running back Kelvin Taylor's accolades are well known by now.

The Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day five-star junior is the all-time rushing leader in the state of Florida, passing Emmitt Smith during the final week of the regular season in 2011, finishing the year with 9,698 career yards. The all-time high school record of 11,232 yards is in reach as well, but for that mark, only Taylor's yardage from his freshman year forward will be counted (he played as an eighth-grader). In Grades 9-11, he has 8,114 yards.

But all of the statistics take a back seat to championships. Taylor has won two Florida state titles with Glades Day but missed out on a third this year when his team lost to St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut in the state semifinals.

"It was tough to be on the sidelines for that title game," Taylor said. "They were a better team that day and they earned the trip but I still wanted to be there. My goal every year is to be the last team in our class to finish the season."

Taylor's drive for success is one of the main reasons every major program would love to have him. But the 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior has been squarely focused on two programs for much of the past six months: Alabama and Florida.

Taylor, who will play in the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game, will make his final decision over the weekend, most likely Saturday night or Sunday. He's expected to be in Gainesville this weekend for Florida's junior day.

"I had the best time when I visited both of those programs and they had everything I could want from an academic standpoint," Taylor said. "It's important to my parents that I looked at each program from all angles rather than just football.

"In reality football is the least of my worries because both programs are well established in that area. So when I was on campus I was talking with the academic advisers and trying to understand more about the education opportunities."

Taylor represents a legacy for the Gators. His father Fred was one of the school's most prolific runners and a first-round draft choice in 1998 who ran for more than 11,000 yards in his NFL career.

Ever since the younger Taylor burst on the scene as an eighth-grader, he's been hearing about his future as Florida's next great running back.

"Oh yeah, I've been hearing the voices since I was a kid really," Kelvin Taylor said. "And once I got to Glades Day it was a natural assumption that I'd be the next in line."

One voice Taylor won't hear is his father's.

"My dad said from the beginning that he was going to support any decision I made and he wanted me to be happy above anything else," Taylor said. "He and my mom understand the pressure, but they have made it easy on me."

If there's been pressure, Taylor has rarely let it show. While he's been on everyone's radar for years, he never let the success go to his head. If anything, he's worked harder.

"You could see how special he was from day one," said Larry Blustein, a writer for the Miami Herald who has been following Taylor since he played youth football. "Obviously genetics plays a huge part in his ability, but the work ethic is what makes Taylor a great running back.

"If he didn't work hard he'd probably still be good because he had so much going for him to start with, but the fact that he is the first in the weight room and watches the tape and works to correct his mistakes is what makes him special."

Reidel Anthony, who was Fred Taylor's teammate at Glades Central and currently coaches at the school, says that Kelvin Taylor has the same traits that made his father successful.

"Kelvin plays hungry and there's no sense of entitlement there," Anthony said. "He doesn't expect to just walk in and dominate because he's Fred Taylor's son. He wants to be a player that earns what he gets.

"And he's just a humble young man, real quiet like Fred was. He's not going to tell you that he's going to run for 350 yards on you, he's just going to do it. He has the respect of his teammates, his coaches, other coaches and his opposition because of the way he plays the game."

Anthony expects Taylor will be the best running back in the state this year.

"Last year it was Duke Johnson and this year it's going to be Kelvin Taylor, Greg Bryant and Will Likely," Anthony said. "The three best athletes in the state are all within 20 miles of each other."

It's no surprise that Taylor was back in the weight room and on the track shortly after the disappointing loss to Admiral Farragut, and this spring, he will be running track to keep himself in the best shape possible

"I don't want to go through that sort of disappointment again," Taylor said. "I haven't been alone, either. My teammates have been there with me every step of the way this offseason."

But this weekend, it will be all about Taylor and his choice of school. Regardless of whether he does the Gator chomp or yells, "Roll Tide," Taylor says he will be firm in the commitment he makes this weekend.

"This is it for me in terms of recruiting," Taylor added. "I'm going to make a final decision and get it out of the way.

"I never wanted to drag out the process or do a bunch of hat ceremonies or make a big deal out of it. That's not what it's about to me. It's about choosing a place that makes you happy, enjoying that moment with your family and respecting the process."

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.