After he took the podium at SEC Media Days Tuesday representing Tennessee football, it became hard to believe that Alontae Taylor once decommitted from Rocky Top and had to be convinced to rejoin the program. That was during the Butch Jones to Jeremy Pruitt transition.
Now, nearly four years later, Taylor is one of the top returning defensive players on Rocky Top and arguably the leader of the secondary at cornerback. As he spoke, it became clear that his ultimate loyalty was to UT.
Taylor, who came out of Coffee County Central High School in Manchester, Tenn., talked about what his state school means to him throughout his press conference. At one point, he addressed his decision to stay while so many other players transferred. Here’s a bit of what he said.
"“Seeing those guys go was hard just because we built that relationship, and from that, we’ll have a family forever. As far as why did I stay, I’m the third in my family to go to college, and I told my mom that I would get my degree before I left. I tried to get that in three years last year, but it didn’t really work that way. That was one reason. And the second reason was this is my state. I’m from the state of Tennessee, and the University of Tennessee means a lot to me. Wearing orange and white is a privilege, and it’s bigger than me, and wearing that Power ’T’ on my chest is bigger than me.”"
During another portion of the press conference, Taylor stressed how much he was looking forward to all the traditions returning to Rocky Top this year and the chance for his family to be able to attend games his senior season. He also even talked about how it was a childhood dream for him to be able to attend SEC Media Days, which is something only SEC fans can appreciate.
Then there was his talk about how important the Third Saturday in October is to him. Taking everything he said into account, Taylor’s loyalty to UT went beyond the coach, whether it was Jones, Pruitt or Josh Heupel, and he has bought into Heupel. His loyalty is about being a Tennesseean who grew up in the heart of SEC country and has a deep appreciation for it.
A love for the university isn’t the only thing that stood out with Taylor, though, when it came to saying all the right things at the event. Taylor also talked about the state of his defense, which everybody knows is not looking good right now given all the transfers, last year’s struggles and what was on display in the spring.
Well, Taylor was pretty clear with how to overcome all of it: hard work and leadership. He touted the newcomers in the secondary and talked about his enjoyment of going over the new playbook and trying to pick up the new schemes.
When it comes to newcomers specifically, Taylor spoke highly of Auburn Tigers transfer Kamal Hadden, Alabama Crimson Tide transfer Brandon Turnage and four-star freshman Kaemen Marley. Again, he specifically praised their hard work. Here’s a bit of what he said there.
"“Those guys come to work every day. I work out at 7 in the morning with Brandon, and me and him have a lot of conversations about where he just came from and things like that. But just seeing how hard he works and how dedicated he is to what he’s doing is fun. At the end of the day, you never know much about a player until you get thrown into that fire, whether it be scrimmages or normal practice. I’m looking forward to going to work with those guys and hoping to help them play as best as they can, as a leader for them.”"
Tuesday’s performance shows that Taylor is dedicated to Tennessee football, is stepping up as a leader and values all the things necessary to be successful. It may be cliche, but sometimes you need that from your upperclassmen.
With Bryce Thompson and Shawn Shamburger gone from the secondary, Taylor will have an even bigger role to play. You can’t learn too much from SEC Media Days, but if anybody was able to prove his dedication with his press conference there, Taylor was that guy.