Senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor sat on a table in the commons at Schembechler Hall to talk to the media after the Michigan football team’s first day of fall practice last Monday. As sweat poured from his head, he rocked back and forth during the 15-minute interview.
When he got up, he joked the table would have broken last year.
By shedding 27 pounds since the New Year’s Day Capital One Bowl, Taylor has become the poster child for the Wolverines’ new strength and conditioning regimen. But Taylor, who now weighs 301 pounds, hasn’t lost everything. His sense of humor and bravado are still intact.
In fact, the weight loss was the means to keep his wit and bluster. Taylor looks back fondly on the 2006 season, not necessarily because the team ran after every practice, but because Michigan had the nation’s best run defense.
“When it came to game day, and it was the fourth quarter, and it was third down and two, we weren’t even tired,” Taylor said. “We was out there joking and rapping and doing all that stuff and playing around.”
For Michigan to regain that swagger after finishing eighth in the Big Ten in rush defense last year, a self-described out-of-shape Taylor knew he’d have to get his act together. He realized he couldn’t fall behind players like Shawn Crable, LaMarr Woodley and Pat Massey, Michigan’s last three defensive captains, during drills. Taylor is a senior, which, to him, means he should be the best in practice.
But that didn’t click right away. Shortly after returning from the Capital One Bowl, the team had to do five gassers, or sprints across the field. Taylor couldn’t finish.
In the first practice of the spring in pads, Taylor was running off the field, when he fell to his knees and threw up. He had never thrown up from playing sports before.
Taylor said there was an initial “clashing” between himself and the new coaches as they got used to each other’s personalities. That led to the All-Big Ten second-team player of a year ago beginning Michigan’s spring game on the second team.
But a message from director of strength and conditioning Mike Barwis reversed Taylor’s spiral down the depth chart.
“He said, ‘Look at you,’ ” Taylor said. “He says, ‘You’re the only person that’s not even finishing the workout. You don’t want to be that guy.’ And I thought about it all that night. And I told myself I didn’t want to be that guy.”
Taylor says Barwis broke him down mentally and rebuilt him. The Muskegon native improved his sleeping and eating habits. He bought a lot of Aquafina and ate more fruit and oatmeal.
“I think I’m better conditioned than any D lineman in the nation right now,” Taylor said. “You can’t tell me different.”
The new Taylor, who says he’s stronger physically and mentally, seems here to stay. He drank pop at a team meal — it burned. He tried a McDonald’s hamburger after going a month without one.
“It was so greasy, and I was like, ‘This is what I used to eat?’ ” he said.
His teammates and coaches have noticed the difference. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Obi Ezeh said he hasn’t made as many plays in practice because Taylor has gotten to the ball first. And his ability has made everything easier for the rest of the defensive line, Michigan’s strongest position group.
“That boy shaved off some pounds,” junior defensive end Brandon Graham said. “He’s looking like a beast out there.”
But it’s not like Taylor will let a teammate go without noticing his ability anyway. If Taylor beats a teammate on a play, he’s known to jokingly rag on the other player in the post-practice meal.
Still, there’s some serious business at hand. Taylor said he returned for his senior year to accomplish a few firsts — get his degree, beat Ohio State and get a ring for winning a Big Ten Title. He’s doing all he can to put himself in a position to achieve those goals.
“An in-shape Terrance Taylor is a lot better football player, and he should have an outstanding year,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said.