Junior running back Kelvin Taylor always wanted to play for the Florida Gators. Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard wasn’t ready to leave Gainesville, Florida, after coming of age as a junior in 2014. Now both are set to leave the program following the 2016 Citrus Bowl on Friday, but neither is doing so with anything less than total praise from their coaches.
“This is a great person, Kelvin. And he’s a great Gator. And he’s a guy that’s going to be remembered for all the things that he’s given,” said head coach Jim McElwain of his near-1,000-yard rusher. “He plays hard. He’s at practice. He does things right in the classroom. He’s always early to stuff. He’s what you want in a player…. Moving forward, he’s going to make a really good pro. But more than that, he’ll continually come back and give back to the Gators.”
Taylor said that while the game will be said, he’s “going to enjoy” himself in the Citrus Bowl, where he is “looking forward to going out and finishing with a bang,” just like his father, Fred Taylor, did back in the day.
“It’s very cool [to be playing my last game]. Very thankful I’ve had great coaches, great teammates. It’s going to be a great experience,” he continued. “I leaned on my father a whole lot. … It was a family decision. We’re comfortable with it. I feel like it’s going to be the best decision for me, my family and for my future. I’m excited.”
Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins interrupted the start of his bowl press conference to brag about Bullard, who he described as the “poster child” for a player who faces a difficult decision of whether to leave early for the NFL or return for his senior season.
“The things that he did in the offseason, the things that he did throughout the year to make himself one of the best players in college football — tackles for loss, sacks, just the impact that he had on every game — you don’t see guys do that a lot,” Collins explained. “And I just think it’s a credit to him and his character, his work ethic and, you know, I think what he has done has made our defense what it has been this year.”
Bullard referred to staying in Gainesville for a fourth year as “the best decision I made in my life, noting that it was a family decision for him to return to school. “I’m playing the best ball I’ve played since I’ve been here,” he said. “They’ve put me in good positions to make plays and be the guy to step up when needed to. It’s going to be real special to run out with the team one more time.”
It should not be lost how passionate both players feel about the Gators and their fans. Taylor said there’s “nothing like Gator Nation,” he loves the fans and is excited to see how Florida packs the Citrus Bowl.
Bullard shared a similar sentiment. “I love Florida. It was a school that I’ve always been interested in ever since I was younger and thought I was going to play basketball instead of football,” he explained. “Just the support we get running out. And I know it’s going to be like a home game for us [Friday].”
While losing Taylor, who carried the Gators’ offense with 13 touchdowns this season, and a defensive standout like Bullard is going to be extremely difficult for Florida, McElwain is ultimately not concerned because he expects both players – who truly bought into the new team dynamic – to be around the program for a long time to come.
“It’s never saying goodbye because they’re Gators forever,” he said. “And what they’ve done to set this team apart, what they’ve done to create a legacy moving forward is something that all Gator fans and the University of Florida is grateful for.”
Photo Credit: Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press