It's Sunday, the morning after, and the Florida campus is still. The kegs are empty, and the kids are resting after a night spent in immoderate celebration of Florida's 38-7 victory over ancient rival Georgia in Jacksonville. No school today, no practice, no nothing. And on the seventh day ye shall rest.
Yeah, but when? That's what Travis Taylor would like to know. He lives in a modest apartment just off the Florida campus, and in conversation he cites the Lord every 15 minutes or so, but he'll be damned if he knows when he'll get eight hours of shut-eye. Taylor, a 19-year-old sophomore, is a full-time student at Florida, a full-time football player, a newlywed, a father. Last Saturday, a day on which he caught five passes for 86 yards, his daughter, Tionna, turned eight days old. On Sunday, while most other Florida students were sleeping late, Travis was gingerly cleaning Tionna's face after she spit up. "On the field he's very aggressive, but at home he's very different," says Travis's wife, Rashidah. "He'll pick up a baby wipe and say, I can't use this on her—it's too cold.' He's a good husband. He's a good father."
He's a good receiver too. Taylor grew up in Kingsland, a small town in the southern part of Georgia, but after his sophomore year in high school he moved to Jacksonville to live with relatives and to play in the well-regarded football program at Ribault High. When recruiting time arrived, he wasn't particularly torn between state loyalties. Although he visited one other school, he wanted to go to Florida, and when Gators coach Steve Spurrier came calling, off he went.
Last Saturday's game was a homecoming for Taylor. He had his Jacksonville people there. He had his Kings-land people there. He had his wife and baby at home, in Gainesville, watching on television.
Florida received the opening kickoff. Seven plays later, at the Georgia 25, Doug Johnson dropped back and threw to the first open guy he saw, Papa Taylor, who caught the 15-yard pass and swiftly ran the remaining 10 yards into the end zone. Six-zip, Gators. For most of the next 57 minutes, the Bulldogs, surprise winners of last year's game against Florida, struggled to contain Johnson, Taylor & Co. Although Taylor didn't score again, he still leads the Gators (7-1 and ranked fifth) in touchdowns, with eight, and is third for Florida in total catches, with 24.
Rashidah was following the game with friends and relatives, including her grandmother Beatrice Mitchell, and when Travis scored, the two-bedroom apartment at the Gatorwood complex erupted. Tionna marked the occasion by momentarily opening her eyes. "Travis said he wanted to score a touchdown for the baby, and he did," Rashidah says. Wasted no time doing it.
The young couple hasn't wasted much time, either. Rashidah, who had compiled all the credits necessary for high school graduation by the end of her junior year, grew up in Atlanta and spent vacations in Kingsland, where she has relatives. Travis grew up on the outskirts of Kings-land, a kid trying to keep up with his older cousins, running faster than everybody else when he had the ball, afraid the big kids would pummel him if they caught him. Travis and Rashidah started going out together when they were in ninth grade, a country boy and a city girl, and they've been together ever since. Last Christmas they became engaged. In February, Rashidah learned she was pregnant. "It was two days before Valentine's Day when I found out, and I wanted to wait to tell him, but I couldn't," Rashidah says. "He was shocked and happy at the same time. The first thing he said was, I gotta call Daddy' "
Daddy is Cornelious Taylor, who works for the Gilman Paper Co. in St. Marys, near Kingsland. "When I first told him, he just kind of smiled," Taylor says. "He figured I was kidding him, 'cause we kid a lot. Then he saw I was serious, and he said, 'What do you want to do?' I said, 'We want to have the baby. We're going to get married.' After that he backed me up 100 percent."
Travis's mother, Helen Taylor—she never married Travis's father; they just happen to have the same surname—had a different view. She felt Travis and Rashidah were too young to be married and too young to be parents. When the kids were married, on June 12 in a small ceremony at a private home near Kingsland, Rashidah's parents were there, and Cornelious and his wife, Robin, were there. Helen wasn't. But she says her absence wasn't intended to show her disapproval, and she was at Alltel Stadium for the Florida-Georgia game on Saturday. When her boy emerged from the stadium, she hugged him and said, "Good game, baby."
He's a mother's baby. He's a kid. He's a man. Travis is 6'1", skinny, fast. He wears braces on his teeth, a gold wedding band on his finger and an orange shoelace around his wrist with the letters WWJD (What would Jesus do?) stenciled on it. His favorite class, he says, "is the one where we study bugs." He's worried about how he and Rashidah will pay for Tionna's day care while they continue their studies at Florida. (Rashidah is majoring in aerospace engineering.) "It's going to cost at least $75 a week, could be $150," Travis says. "Maybe Rashidah could get a job as my tutor."