As a sports writer, I get the opportunity to speak with talented athletes from college to the professional level. My job is to share their stories with the public, while also providing information from my point of view. The biggest challenge is to not show bias while still sharing my opinions and ideas.
After my 20-minute phone call with future Florida State Seminole, Levonta Taylor, I had to figure out how I would write this piece without sounding like a fan.
Then I told myself, “stay true to the brand and be a fan.”
Growing up, I was a fan of two teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Florida State Seminoles. My dream was to receive a full ride to Tallahassee and then be drafted in the 1st round to the Cowboys. Unfortunately my dream became more and more distant with my lack of dedication towards becoming a better football player, but my passion for the two squads is stronger than ever.
This past year, I have been able to speak with many ball players – Ben Simmons, DeAngelo Russell, Victor Olidipo just to name a few -- and I thank god to have put me in those situations and the players for accepting my request for an interview.
But after I spoke with Taylor, an 18-year old kid, I never felt more gratifying after an Interview.
This wasn't my first encounter with Taylor, I interviewed him in October, after his Ocean Lakes squad defeated Bayside 56-14. Feel free to take a listen.
This time I was able to get a little bit more in-depth with the 5-star corner just weeks before he would perform in the 8th annual Under Armour All-American game in Orlando, Florida – a game he knew he would play in since his sophomore season in High School.
“I knew I would play in this game because all the greats played there,” Taylor said. “I just want to go there and win the MVP like Vernon Hargreaves and show people I can compete. I'm not the biggest corner out there but I can play the biggest.”
Hargrave – a junior standout cornerback at the University of Florida -- was the MVP of the UA All-American game in 2013, and is already a two-time All-American going into his third year of college. Despite the early success by Hargreaves, Taylor still feels he is better than the future 1st rounder.
Before the start of his senior campaign, Taylor replied to tweet that compared him to Hargreaves with a simple “I'm better than him....” that sent shock waves throughout the college world. Taylor would go on to explain that it wasn't out of disrespect but just how he felt about being compared to Hargreaves.
As a sports fan, I admire the confidence, as a Florida State fan, I love it! Taylor thinks Hargreaves is a great player, which he is, but as a senior in high school, Taylor feels he is better right now.
“The media just want something to talk about. They made it seem like I was calling him out. I was just saying at this point, I'm better than what he was now.”
Taylor has valid reasons to feel how he does though. In three season on the varsity football team, he has only lost three games in his high school career, most recent in the VHSL football playoffs to Oscar Smith. He was a candidate for USA Today defensive Player of the Year, and was the top player in the state of Virginia according to Rivals and ESPN rankings. He was also named the 6A South region player of the year in Virginia.
If it wasn't for a tough loss to Oscar Smith, Taylor could have potentially been crowned Mr. Virginia with back-to-back state titles.
With the loss, came some scrutiny. Taylor mentioned that many people wanted to see them lose after they went 37 games without a loss. Before Oscar Smith, the Dolphins have not loss since November 29th 2013.
“People wanted to see us lose [but] that loss don't define me as a man,” said Taylor. “Life moves on forward after that, I can't let that one game define the rest of my life, and every loss I took I bounced back from it.”
With any success, haters will come, and Taylor isn't effected by them. With a laid-back type of brashness about him and matching humbleness, it's a great mixture for a future star at Florida State who is known to have flamboyant players.
With Taylor playing cornerback and his explosive athletic ability, it's hard not to compare him to the greatest Seminole of them all, Deion Sanders. One may think that, but the comparisons have not reached that level. Taylor isn't the first 5-star cornerback to play at Florida State but I think he will be one of the more memorable ones to play in Doak Campbell Stadium.
I asked Taylor why he don't think he has received the Deion comparison and he simply replied “because he played so long ago,” understanding that we live in a microwave society that tends to forget the past.
I don't think anyone has forgot about Deion but the only comparison that Taylor has received are Greg Reid (2009-2011) and Lamarcus Joyner (2010-2013), mainly because they are the same size and both were highly touted coming out of high school, ranked as the number one cornerbacks in their class.
“People been seeing me on special teams a lot lately, so I been seeing some Deion comparisons. One fan even said they should open up that #2 for me.”
Taylor has a chance to be the starting punt returner next fall, which will be very exciting to watch. Even though Taylor is fast, running a sub-4.4, he is even quicker. His stellar footwork, at such an early stage in his football career, I think is what separates him from others across the country. Similar to Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, I think we will see Taylor getting some offensive touches.
During our chat, we also spoke about the NCAA, which can be touchy subject student athletes. Like most student athletes, Taylor believes that they should be paid, mainly for the money that has been made for the universities.
“The fans come to see us play. Johnny Manziel could have been a millionaire at Texas A&M!” he said jokingly about the 2012 Heisman winner.
Being a pundit that is against paying players because of the potential affects it could have on the game, I asked taylor does he think players being paid will kill college athletics.
“I don't think it would kill anything, I think they don't want us to do anything stupid with the money.” Taylor said, which we both agreed on.
Taylor believes that his peers will have to learn how to save their money and not blow it, and until then he doesn't think players will receive any payments for their performance.
He also is not a fan of the targeting rule, which disqualifies players from games if a big hit is deemed too vicious. He would like the NCAA to understand that taking players out of the game is very detrimental, for not only the player, but the program.
“You can suspend players for a quarter, couple of minutes, or even give them community service hours before suspend them for a game,” Taylor said. “Each play count, especially when everyone is fighting for National Championships and bowl games.”
Our conversation ended with Taylor explaining why he love the game of football. He started out playing for the Pop Warner organization, telling his mother he wanted to play. As the years went by, he love grew stronger. Watching the greats play like Deion, gave him a “savage” feeling and hunger to become great.
That saveage feeling has made him one of the top players in the country.
“Life after football is what I'm excited about.”
By time our conversation ended, I was on cloud nine as a sports writer. To have a candid conversation with the future of my favorite college football team is something I planned on doing in 2012 when I wrote my first blog post.
Be sure to watch the Under Armour All-American game on January 2nd to see Taylor “put on a show” attempting to be second Seminole to win MVP honors in the games seven year history.