ASHWAUBENON — There was a point Mike Taylor started thinking, if football really doesn’t work out, what do I do now? It’s a thought Taylor didn’t think would cross his mind, not until he got to give the NFL a try, after a decorated college football career at Wisconsin.
Taylor has been working out at Ashwaubenon High School lately, his alma mater, getting ready for that long-awaited NFL chance. He’s on the Seattle Seahawks offseason roster – a dream close to being fulfilled that very nearly didn’t happen.
The linebacker was second in the Big Ten in total tackles his senior year after leading the conference in that category his junior year. His final season’s accomplishment all the more impressive and surprising given the pain Taylor felt on the field.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to shut it down. I’ve got to find a job or something because this isn’t getting better.’”
“Each week it kept getting worse and worse and worse,” said Taylor. “After a couple weeks, it was like, ‘I probably shouldn’t be playing football.’”
The pain came from a sports hernia. The former Badger continued playing even as he felt his body deteriorate. Towards the end of the season, during the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl, Taylor says he pulled himself out of plays because he felt he couldn’t run.
“Looking back, it probably would’ve been pretty smart to just stop,” said Taylor.
He’d dealt with other injuries in his career including knee surgery and hip problems. Those who knew Taylor best, watching him as a senior on TV, knew something was wrong.
“He was almost a shell of what he was the previous year just because of those injuries,” said former Ashwaubenon head coach Ken Golomski who is now an assistant football coach at St. Norbert. “It was amazing what he could accomplish that injured. Most guys, they’d be out of it, they’d be done for the year, but Mike found a way to get the job done.”
After the season, Taylor had surgery to fix the sports hernia. That kept him from working out at the NFL Combine. Another surgery followed, and Taylor went undrafted and unsigned as he rehabbed his injuries.
Taylor missed being around a team, especially after an experience he loved in Madison, and says he went “right from that to nothing.” The other, bigger problem was: he didn’t seem to feel better. One day he would be ok, he’d try going for a run or playing basketball, feel pain and find himself back at square one.
“I used to sneeze and cough and I could feel sharp pain in my stomach,” said Taylor. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to shut it down. I’ve got to find a job or something because this isn’t getting better.’”
Taylor eventually did start feeling better. He gradually increased his training, his running and trained at the House of Speed in Ashwaubenon. Taylor worked out for several NFL teams, including the Packers. One day, he woke up to a voicemail saying the Seahawks were signing him to their practice squad.
That stint in Seattle didn’t last long: the team let him go; however, the Seahawks brought back Taylor after the season. One possible reason why, and Taylor says it likely played a role, is the guy making the personnel calls for the defending Super Bowl champions: De Pere native John Schneider.
“I’d known about him for a long time,” said Schneider.
Schneider is the Seahawks’ general manager. While Taylor was in high school at Ashwaubenon, Taylor was an executive for the Packers, and saw Taylor compete against his nephews.
“He was a heck of a college football player, very productive, unfortunate what happened to him last year, he wasn’t able to partake in the event at the Combine,” said Schneider.
Taylor is thankful Schneider and the Seahawks gave him a shot, and he plans to make it count. He’s keeping his focus in front of him: not thinking about a possible season opener against his hometown Packers or even what it will take to make the roster. He’s getting better, staying within himself and not worrying about the past. Taylor could have, perhaps, had surgery his senior season, maybe been ready for the Combine or gotten his NFL chance a little sooner. Taylor, however, has no regrets.
“You say wish you could go back and change stuff,” said Taylor. “I always say if I could go back, I wouldn’t change anything.”