A Special Journey for Taylor

From a quiet kid with a huge upside at Ashwaubenon to a first-team All-Big Ten linebacker in Madison, in-state senior Mike Taylor has had a rewarding journey for the University of Wisconsin.

CHICAGO - As the sun came up on the Day Two at the 41st Annual Big Ten Football Media Days, senior linebacker Mike Taylor was asked to reflect on his time in Madison.

But to hear head coach Bret Bielema tell it, the sun had nearly set before Taylor was given the chance to prove himself in front of the Camp Randall faithful.

"Ken Golomski, who was his coach in high school, is a very respected coach and a guy that, when I first came to town, Coach Alvarez talked to me about who he was and what he is," Bielema recalled. "Coach Golomski really felt strongly about Mike, so we watched the film, we really liked him, but he's playing in Ashwaubenon and, you know, the competition wasn't everything we'd wanted it to be.

"Then he began to gain a little bit of momentum. He got offered by Minnesota. He got offered by Iowa, and we were trying to get him to come to our camp. There was a little bit of anxiety because we didn't know if he was going to come to camp or just take one of those offers. Bottom line, we eventually got him to camp, made him an offer right away."

After that, recollections change a bit. To hear Taylor talk about it, the offer from Wisconsin was all he ever wanted, he just didn't know if it was in the cards. The all-state linebacker was a consensus top 10 player in the state and top 40 at his position nationally, yet the offers he received seemed merely to be ones he was destined to accept.

That is, until he got the one he'd worked his whole life to get.

"When I got the scholarship offer from Wisconsin it was done right there," said Taylor. "It didn't matter who else offered, that was always where I wanted to play."

The recruiting process was at once thrilling and frustrating knowing that his efforts had been rewarded, just not initially how he'd hoped.

"Going into my senior year, I started to get some scholarship offers like North Dakota State," Taylor recalled. "You're excited because it's a full ride and that's something that you've worked towards and you see that hard work pay off. When North Dakota State offered, I thought 'That's my team, that's where I'm going.'

"But then other schools started to get into the mix and they were just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. My first big offer was Iowa, so I thought that was where I was going, but I'd always wanted that Wisconsin offer. It was the main thing I was working for but I didn't have that right away. So while I wasn't committed to Iowa, I figured that was where I was going.

"Being from Wisconsin, you don't really expect to get a scholarship. Only like five guys a year get a scholarship from Wisconsin, so you set your goals high, you work out and you try to do things that no one else does."

And Bielema rewarded him with it. He just wasn't as sure as Taylor was about whether he would accept.

"He processed it a little bit before he committed," Bielema said. "He's a northern Wisconsin kid. He loves to hunt (and) be just as fine going out and shooting something as watching a video game. He kind of had to understand and massage Madison because my experiences have been Madison can be a little overwhelming when you've got kids who come from different environments."

Since coming to Madison, Taylor has grown, thrived really, according to Bielema.

"I probably have had more enjoyment seeing him interact with the media than any other player I've brought down here because he's such a quiet kid, at least when I'm around," Bielema said. "Mike was very engaging (Thursday), very detailed in his answers, saying a lot of what I say he was saying, which I kind of appreciate. He's got a quiet strength to him that's really been fun to see grow. He's gone through an ACL surgery, a hip surgery. I mean he's seen some adversity and faced it head on and hasn't said 'boo' and that's why I really think he's going to have a special senior year."

Special year on the field, Bielema could have added. He already knows the character that makes Taylor so special off the field.

"The thing that I love about Mike was at a bowl game, I believe it was three years ago, I brought four players down to talk to an alumni group and one of the questions directed at the group (was) 'Why'd you come to Wisconsin?'," Bielema recalled. "All three of the other guys were out-of-state guys, Mike was the only in-state guy and he said 'I'm from Wisconsin, that's what we do."

It turns out the humble kid who played his high school ball minutes from Lambeau Field never really left. Because of that, the memories he's created in Madison are sure to be a part of him the rest of his days.

"Going back to high school, you really don't know what you're doing at the time, you're just playing football and having fun with your friends," Taylor said. "As soon as you leave that, you think back and realize how much fun you had and the memories you made with all those guys. It truly is special.

"In college right now I'm playing with all these guys and having fun but until you're out of it, you won't really realize what you had and how much fun you had, how much you'll miss it. I know because of the friends I have and the places I've been, the memories I'm going to miss I won't fully understand until I'm gone."

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