Matt Elam and Josh Evans, the Florida Gators’ starting safeties in 2012 and now two NFL reserves, both pointed to redshirt freshman Marcus Maye as the player to watch at their position by the time the 2013 season rolled around.
On Monday, 12 days before Florida was set to open the 2013 campaign against Toledo on Aug. 31, head coach Will Muschamp named Maye the Gators’ second starting safety where he will play alongside redshirt junior Cody Riggs.
Suffice to say, his teammates were not surprised.
“Marcus Maye is amazing,” sophomore cornerback Brian Poole said Tuesday. “He’s a great player. He should have a great year this year.”
“He’s a good player,” corroborated junior CB Marcus Roberson. “He’s a ball hawk. He makes a lot of plays, and we like that about him.”
Maye sat out in 2012 while rehabbing a torn meniscus that he injured while playing basketball in high school. Though he started practiced with the team ahead of the 2013 Sugar Bowl, he did not step on the field and accepted a redshirt.
He impressed the coaching staff then, continued to do so this spring and has stood out in a big way over the last few weeks.
“Marcus Maye has had a really good camp. He’s [been] a very productive player throughout camp,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Wednesday. “He’s always around the ball. He’s got a great skill set for the position. That’s a guy we’d take over and over again at the safety position.
“He’s long, he’s rangy, he’s physical, and he’s a smart football player. He has done a great job getting better and better with all the snaps he had in the spring as well as here in the fall. We’re looking for a great year out of him.”
Maye has equally high expectations for himself.
“[I’m] just a guy that’s always around the ball,” he said. “I like to make plays, interceptions, big plays, big tackles, fumbles and stuff like that.”
He indicated Tuesday that being forced to sit out his true freshman season was frustrating but that it likely improved him as a player in the long run.
“It definitely helped a lot. I got to learn a lot. I got to watch. I got to get healthy. I watched two great guys [in Elam and Evans], a great team defense, getting to see how it’s done,” he explained. “It definitely humbled myself and made the hunger a lot. Working hard, I got myself back healthy and now I’m ready to go.”
Maye said he is not going to emulate Elam and Evans but rather play his own role, be himself and “make the plays that I can make.” He feels comfortable teaming with Riggs in the back of the secondary and thinks they will be the perfect duo to help lead the unit.
“Me and Cody, we’re big communicators off the field and on the field, great friends in the locker room and stuff like that,” he said. “We still got a lot to learn with each other, but I feel comfortable with the progress that the secondary is at right now. We’ve been working hard together.”
Maye also has one more advantage – being coached personally by Muschamp. Though defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson is the primary assistant in charge of the unit, Muschamp oversees the secondary and pays extra attention to the safeties, meaning Maye and Riggs will be as coached up as any players on the team.
“Coach Muschamp,” he’s a great guy off the field,” Maye said. “He laughs and jokes with you. On the field, he’s full-go. He’s very intense. He’s coaching every moment he can get, telling me about little things and what to look for, stuff like that. He’s definitely in my face and in my ear a lot.”
Muschamp, the rest of the Gators’ coaching staff and all his Florida teammates hope Maye is in plenty of faces as well this season. They just hope he’s making big tackles, swatting balls away and bringing down interceptions while doing so.