ATHENS — Juwan Taylor has gotten on a lot of buses during his career.
That, in and of itself, might not mean much to a lot of people. But it means a lot to college football players. Likewise, it carries a lot of weight inside the Georgia Bulldogs’ locker room.
Taylor, a special teams mainstay throughout his career at UGA, carries a lot of weight in the Bulldogs’ locker room.
“I’ve done special teams since my freshman year,” said Taylor, a senior who’s primary position is inside linebacker. “Mainly kickoff and kick return. I’m trying to focus on getting on punt (team) this year. I’m hoping to help out more.”
Each year, coaches have to make some hard decisions about what players get on the bus with them each week. There are 110 players in Georgia’s preseason camp, but only 70 will get on the bus with them to go to SEC road games and not many more than that accompany them on non-conference trips.
Taylor made all those trips last season and, barring injury, he’ll make them all this season. Whether that’s as a starting inside linebacker, backup or special teams specialist is immaterial to him.
“I’m just looking to help the team,” he said.
Such an attitude has served Taylor well throughout his career. It’s one he shares with his longtime roommate and close friend Jarvis Wilson.
Wilson, a safety by training, has never started a game in his career since arriving from Tupelo, Miss. But he has played in almost every game the Bulldogs have conducted since he showed up: 11 of 13 as a freshman, 13 of 13 in 2016 and all 15 last season.
“I’m the type of person who’s not selfish,” Wilson said after Georgia’s practice Monday. “If I’m not able to start, I’m still going to help the team however I can.”
Neither player would mind a little more work on defense. Wilson has been working primarily with scout team in Georgia’s camp so far. But Taylor is position to get on the field a lot more this season. Taylor is currently working alongside Monty Rice at linebacker with the No. 2 defense. At times, he gets snaps with the No. 1 D as well.
But regardless of what their primary role is with the team, the important thing for Taylor and Wilson is continuing to have one. They want to be on that bus every weekend when it pulls away from the Butts-Mehre football complex.
“It’s not really different,” Taylor said of playing special teams versus defense. “The game is run-and-hit. That’s what you do. You go run and hit.”
Taylor has made a name for himself doing that. Four years after making the long drive to UGA from Hollywood, Fla., this former 3-star can rest in the knowledge that he has been a valuable and regular contributor for the Bulldogs. He has played in 32 games in all, including all 15 last season. He even started one, getting the nod when both Natrez Patrick and Reggie Carter missed the Vanderbilt game. He notched three tackles, including one for a loss.
Meanwhile, one of the primary focuses of this year’s camp is identifying linebackers who can step in and fill the void left in the wake of Roquan Smith’s departure. Taylor is aware of the narrative that no one person can replace the production of a player who won the Butkus Award and became the No. 8 pick of the NFL draft.
But Taylor feels like the Bulldogs can do it by committee. Between him, Tae Crowder, Natrez Patrick, Nate McBride, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker, Taylor thinks they linebackers will get the job done.
“Everybody has their own type game,” Taylor said. “… That’s that. … There’s really no pressure. It’s like Coach Smart says, pressure’s a privilege. So it’s really not pressure. It’s moreso, like, ‘how will I lead these guys? How will I set an example for these guys and lead the freshman that come in?’ We’re setting a standard here at Georgia.”
Taylor said he has been duly impressed by the newbies, and he doesn’t see them as adversaries.
“Those guys are really fast and they’re really catching onto the defense fast, better than me my freshman year,” Taylor said. “I think they’re really focused and I feel like they can really help us this year on defense. All those guys are our teammates and we see them as our little brothers. We’re just trying to teach them the standard of Georgia.”
That standard extends to special teams. That’s where Taylor has logged the majority of his 24 career tackles. Taylor hopes to add significantly to that number, regardless of where they come from. But thanks to the recruiting success of the Bulldogs under Kirby Smart, the competition for spots on the bus keeps getting tougher and tougher.
This is what continues to motivate players like Taylor and Wilson.
“Us,” Taylor said. “It’s about ‘us’ getting better.”