He couldn’t sleep, mostly because he knew what was waiting for him when he woke up.

Steven Neff
Sophomore Terrance Taylor hoists the Little Brown Jug last Saturday. (ALI OLSEN/Daily)

During team conditioning this past summer, Terrance Taylor and his teammates had the pleasure of 6 a.m. runs through the Michigan golf course.

And the 305-pound defensive tackle sat with a mix of anticipation and dread.

“I couldn’t go to sleep because I was like, ‘Man, I got to run at six in the morning, and I better get some sleep,’ ” Taylor said. “The next thing I know it’s like five o’clock and I’m like, ‘Dang.’ So I go out there and run. But it’s fun. There’s nothing better than to be out there at 6 a.m. with your teammates running. “

Like his teammates, Taylor, who played sparingly last season, knew this year’s key to success: better conditioning.

“We saw a reason for it,” Taylor said. “Last year, when you watch film, you get sick to your stomach because you see players walking and not getting to the ball and missing tackles. That’s not us. Going into conditioning, we had great leaders out there (making us) run hard every day.”

The commitment paid off, especially for Taylor. Already, the Muskegon native has played more than 50 snaps in a game (Wisconsin) and made his presence felt in the trenches. He has had a significant role in a defense ranked No. 1 against the run nationally.

“It’s easy to forget he’s a sophomore,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “A year ago, he was just finding out that college is different than high school. He was used to dominating, and he was used to playing all the time, so he had some things to learn. I think he’s really much stronger. I think that’s the biggest difference than a year ago.”

When teams decide to double Taylor, he takes it in stride, knowing that drawing the extra man allows his fellow defensive tackle to have a one-on-one matchup – and a good chance to get into the backfield.

Taylor points to his renewed focus on the field, in practice and in the film room along with his conditioning as the main reasons he now wreaks havoc in the middle of the line.

“Last year, I really didn’t know the defense and this year I watch film and got the tip sheets and I look them over,” Taylor said. “Now I know the defense like the back of my hand.”

A wrestler in high school, Taylor understands how important leverage is to becoming the defensive tackle that both his coaches and his teammates believe he can be.

But graduated defensive tackle Gabe Watson might have changed Taylor’s future with 90 minutes of innocent fun in a pool.

Michigan was in San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl last December, and Taylor and one of his teammates were relaxing by the pool. Then, Watson came in and wanted to wrestle. Luckily, Taylor knew when enough was enough. He had to bow out before Watson drowned him.

“He got me pretty good,” Taylor said. “I think he took kickboxing or something. It wasn’t a wrestling move. I just gave up. Gabe, he likes to play a lot. He really doesn’t know when to stop, so you really have to give up.”

Other than Watson, who Taylor claims as his lone defeat, the sophomore has never backed down from a challenge. When asked who he’s wrestled on the team, Taylor lists Rondell Biggs, Jake Long, LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch as notches on his belt.

Even though Taylor dominates his teammates on the wrestling mat, they still have a warm place for him in their hearts. They credit Taylor as one of the funniest guys on the team, but say that you really have to spend time with him to understand it.

Before practice, Taylor enjoys warming up in an unusual way. He and Branch routinely throw the ball around, even though Taylor admits neither of them has a future at a skill position.

“Branch really can’t catch, and I can’t throw that good,” Taylor said.

Taylor may not have the best arm on the team, but he definitely has improved endurance. For that, he remembers his summer days of sleepy eyes and golf course runs as motivation for running wherever he has to go, in particular team meetings.

“You don’t want to be late (to meetings),” Taylor said. “It’s better to be three minutes early than one minute late. You don’t want to be late because you’ll have to run afterwards anyway.”

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