"When the new staff came in, they cleaned the slate for everybody. If you don't perform, then you won't play. But if you perform, if you give effort--then you'll make it."
Taylor is a tough, gritty receiver with excellent hands, who has made far more than his share of spectacular catches on the practice field. But standing barely 5-9, he knew he was fighting an uphill battle to play for Alabama. Taylor explained; "My first years all I did was be a scout team player. Like Coach Fran says, ‘Find a way to help your team.' That's what I tried to do on the scout team. I went hard every single play, trying to get these guys ready to play each week. I was helping them, but I knew along the way that I was also helping myself. Being on the scout team and giving 110 percent gave me an opportunity."
Reasoning that his quickest path to playing time ran by way of special teams, last spring Taylor made a point of talking to Bama's Special Teams Coordinator every single day. "Lance is one of those kids that just kept bothering us all spring," Tommerdahl explained with a smile. "He was a thorn in our side, wanting to be a part of special teams. He's one of those guys that truly got himself headed the right way just by working hard."
"I would bug them on and off the field," Taylor agreed. "On the field I'd try and throw kinks into everything the (varsity) was trying to do. I wanted them to know that I wanted to play, and that I wanted to play at all costs. I would sacrifice my body. I would take out people. And I was in the weight room as much as possible. On and off the field I just wouldn't leave them alone."
Though he's obviously not the most physically imposing athlete on the squad, Taylor found his niche on special teams, running downfield to disrupt the return. "My role as a special teams player is to cover kicks," Taylor said. "I go down there, have fun, make some plays and give it all I've got. That's what the coaches told me."
Tommerdahl explained; "Lance is involved in practically every phase (of special teams) mainly as a backup, but he has one starting role on kickoff coverage. He's in a position where he's trusted. He's earned our trust as a staff. And he's certainly earned the respect of his peers, just by how he's elevated himself."
‘Old school' in a lot of ways, Dennis Franchione and his staff frankly don't allow just anyone to wear the Crimson jersey on game day. And Taylor has been one of the few walk-ons to actually get on the field on a consistent basis. "We always try to give guys an opportunity to help this football team," explained Wide Receivers Coach Kenith Pope. "Lance had that type of passion and intensity every time he went out on the field. He earned the right to have a chance to play special teams based on his performance in the off season and based on his performance in the spring."
A ‘legacy' member of the Alabama squad, Taylor learned his passion for Crimson Tide football at the feet of his father. Like his son, James Taylor was an undersized but game athlete, lettering for Coach Bryant from ‘73-'75. "I grew up hearing Dad's stories about Coach Bryant," Taylor related. "And ever since I was able to talk this was where I wanted to come. I didn't even look at any other schools. My heart is for Alabama. I would do anything for this team and this university."
Even though he was never a major star, James Taylor's name will likely remain in the Tide record books for a long time. On October 27, 1973 he was one of four different Bama athletes to rush for more than 100 yards. The elder Taylor contributed 142 of Alabama's astounding total of 748 yards rushing, as the Tide crushed Virginia Tech 77-6.
"Because of my size, I had a work ethic before I got here," Taylor explained. "My Dad instilled that to me in high school. The biggest thing the Lord has given me is not size or speed, but he's given me heart."
As practice observers will attest, Taylor has genuine talent as a receiver, displaying the ability to twist his body in midair to adjust and catch errant passes. "It involves concentration, but it's also a natural ability," Taylor explained. "A lot of times I don't even think about it. I've been doing that since I was brought up. I just go out and try to make plays.
"I try to block everything else out of my mind. If I have to dive, then I'll dive. That's one thing that's gotten me here, sacrificing my body. You have to have the attitude that the ball will not touch the ground--at all costs."
Coach Pope explained; "Lance does a great job in practice. He's the type of guy that football is very important to him. He works with that type of attitude, and he knows his limitations. When a player has the right attitude and the right focus, then sometimes you can overcome some things. With any football team you have to have a special chemistry. He helps the chemistry of this football team, and we recognize that."
In a different situation and certainly at a smaller school, the fans would have already witnessed Taylor's talent at catching the football. But the 2001 Tide is both talented and deep at receiver, making offensive snaps hard to come by. Taylor commented; "At times you look out there and you see guys like Freddie Milons, Jason McAddley, AC (Antonio Carter) and Sam (Collins) and you say ‘These are great players.' But I'll be honest with you, I feel blessed just to be here on the Alabama football team. I've been given opportunities, and I feel like I've capitalized on those chances.
"It's sometimes intimidating being a walk-on and being my size, but it's also good to be around those players. They teach me, and I know it's good to have talented guys to learn from."
"We've got a lot of guys ahead of him on the depth chart," Pope agreed. "But the biggest thing with Lance is his attitude and his work habits. He's got great work habits. That's something that is special."
College football as it's played in the SEC is not a sport for the faint of heart. It requires long hours of hard, grinding work just to get onto the field. And the task is even more difficult for a walk-on. "It's tough," Taylor admitted. "But the best thing about it is the guys. Non-scholarship or scholarship, they treat you like you're a player. It doesn't matter whether you're a walk-on or on scholarship, if you can play they'll treat you like a player and like an athlete. That's been one of the big things for me. My teammates brought me in and treated me like one of their own, so it's made it easier for me."
Arriving on campus weighing barely 165 pounds, hours of work and sweat in the weight room have Taylor up to 187 pounds of muscle--added bulk that is essential for any wide receiver hoping to play for Coach Pope. "What Coach Pope preaches is attitude," Taylor explained. "If you take the attitude that you're the toughest guy and you're going to win the battle, then you will win the battle. Go out there with the attitude that you're going to win, that you're going to fight.
"Coach Koenning (Alabama's offensive coordinator) tells us to ‘Fight for four seconds or until the play is over. Never give up.'"