COLUMBIA — MU sophomore Mike Taylor gently paces on a basketball court at the MU Student Recreation Complex. He snaps his fingers while clapping his hands together as he waits patiently.
To stay loose, he walks toward a basketball hoop, and when he gets about five feet away, he takes a step, jumps and grabs the rim. With fluid strength, Taylor pulls up his body and brings his head above the rim to complete a chin-up.
Taylor then goes back to waiting, ready for his name to be called. He is physically imposing at 6 feet 6 inches tall and a chiseled 253 pounds. But he is reserved and quiet, in a competitive zone flushing out all that surrounds him with his sole focus on the bench.
Becky Rich, the Mizzou Strength Club treasurer and unofficial president, calls “Mike, lifting 315 pounds.”
After his father softly massages his shoulder, Taylor starts to walk slowly toward the bench. Dressed in a black Missouri Underarmour t-shirt with black and gold shorts, he lies down on the bench, takes one final breath and waits for the signal.
“Start!” referee Bill Duncan yells.
Taylor lifts the bar up, brings it down toward his chest, pauses and waits for the next signal.
“Press!” shouts Duncan, acknowledging the bar has been stationary on Taylor’s chest.
He starts lifting the bar back up and eventually has his arms perfectly perpendicular in the air showcasing the Japanese symbol for trust tattooed on his inner left wrist, not to mention his pure, brute strength.
“Rack!” roars Duncan, commanding Taylor to put the barbell back.
Taylor gently drops the bar on the rack and his first attempt in the bench press competition is successful.
He walks away from the bench, stands next to his dad who pats him on the back, and then waits for his next attempt.
Taylor was one of 11 competitors Saturday morning in the second annual Mizzou Strength Club bench press and dead lift meet. The winner was graduate student Gordon Lake who benched 395 pounds and dead lifted 600 pounds, narrowly missing the 1,000 pound club.
In the bench press competition, Taylor lifted 355 pounds placing second in his weight group, 10 pounds short of his personal record.
“I didn’t think that I was going to do that well,” Taylor said with a laugh. “I thought 355 was going to be a lot harder, so I’m kind of mad because I could’ve gotten 365.”
Going into the second competition of the day, the dead lift, he said he had more energy than normal and eclipsed his personal best of a 450-pound dead lift easily with 475 pounds.
After Taylor had finished lifting for the day, Duncan, who competes in weight lifting competitions regularly and is a certified referee in different weight lifting organizations, told him that he could have lifted more. Taylor agreed.
While Taylor’s day seemed effortless, his next challenge will be more difficult. He plans to try to make the Missouri football team as a defensive end or linebacker in the fall.
Taylor’s physical stature alone would make coaches salivate about the prospects of him on the football field. But add his 4.54 40-yard dash time, which he ran three weeks ago on the Rock Bridge High School track, and there is something special brewing. To put his speed and size into perspective, only one defensive end at the NFL Combine posted a better time and only one measured taller.
It figures Taylor would be a success at football. After all, his father, James Taylor, was an All-Big Eight Conference offensive tackle at Missouri in 1977 and was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints in 1978. But Mike Taylor has never played organized football in his entire life.
So why has someone with off-the-charts numbers and football bloodlines never played football?
Growing up, James Taylor did not want his son to play football for fear of the life-altering injuries which caused his own football career to be cut short. However, when Mike Taylor entered high school, James Taylor allowed him to play football if he chose to do so.
Whatever Mike Taylor did, his father just wanted him to do what felt right.
“I’ve told my son, ‘find your niche, find something that will make you happy and take off,’” James Taylor said.
In ninth grade, when allowed to pursue any sport, Mike Taylor started lifting to get bigger and stronger in order to compete with the football players at Rock Bridge. However, he never found the football field; instead, he discovered track and field.
He became a thrower on the Bruins’ track team, specializing in the discus and missed qualifying for the state meet by only four inches at the sectional meet his senior season. No matter what he chose to pursue as a sport, his father was his biggest supporter.
“He’s always there to push me and never lets me settle for anything less than my best,” Mike Taylor said. “It’s kind of a difficult shadow to live in, but he’s my role model and always there to support me in all my competitions.”
Now, after 20 years of not playing football, but always having it in the back of his mind, Mike Taylor is going to give football a try.
“I’ve heard some (personal records) from some guys on the football team and a lot of what I’ve been hitting is close to if not better than them,” Mike Taylor said. “I figure if I have the tools, why not give it a try?”
However, his father is quick to point out that football isn’t just about numbers.
“You know, we could do stats all day long, but let’s just see what happens,” James Taylor said. “I’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
All the years of having people ask him about playing football is part of the reason Mike Taylor is trying the sport.
“I won’t lie, at first I didn’t listen to them, but after seeing myself grow and set personal bests (in weight lifting), maybe they’re right and this is something I can do,” Mike Taylor said. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have a little to do with my drive.”
Mike Taylor says he has spoken with Missouri’s coaches about trying out in the fall and is ready for the challenge because he wants to be better than the next guy in football, just as he does in weight lifting.
“I’m just really competitive, seeing other guys that put up 365 (pounds), makes me want to get up there faster and push myself harder,” Mike Taylor said.
His father realizes success won’t be immediate, if at all.
“It’s an uphill climb, but more power to him,” James Taylor said.