After redshirting last season following a preseason knee injury, Ryan Taylor heads into this fall healthy and back working into the rotation both on special teams and at H-Back.
"It feels great. It's nice to get back," said Taylor. "I practiced full in the spring, but now that it's coming up close and time to get back into another season, it feels great to finally be 100 percent."
Taylor remembers vividly the moment last year in training camp when he was in on a routine play during a 'team phase' of practice.
In his own words he took a misstep and was knocked to the ground, suffering his knee injury along the way.
"I took a bad step and Quinton Coples is a big guy, so you pay for that when you take a bad step," he said. "It was something I had to overcome, but in the end I think I'm more mature and I'm a better player because of it."
Although Taylor returned to practice on a limited basis and was close to being ready to play by midseason, he and the UNC coaches decided it was better to bring him back for a full season than working him through half a season when he wasn't at full strength.
"Coach Davis and I sat down and had a conversation about six weeks after the surgery---which was five or six games into the season---and we decided that it would best to come back for a full season instead of playing five games at maybe 90 percent," he said.
"We felt like it was best for me and the program to kind of just heal 100 percent and come back."
Now that's he returned, Taylor has been working with the starting offense at the H-Back position---where he gets to contribute in a number of different ways.
"It's hard to say (where I'll fit in this season)," he said. "I'm trying to create some stuff to get me on the field. I'm trying to play to the best of my ability, try to put myself on the field."
"We're trying a lot of different things---trying to get more guys involved---and so we'll see how it works out," he added.
A former high school wide receiver who has also played tight end, fullback, and linebacker over the past few years at UNC, Taylor is perfectly suited to play at the H-Back spot, which combines elements of several different positions.
"Well, I could be doing anything (at H-Back)---it could be wide receiver, it could be fullback, it could be tight end---it's just a lot of different things mixed into one position," he said. "I love the position, because it asks a lot from the guys playing it, but it's a fun position to play."
"It (playing H-Back) fits in (to my past experiences)," Taylor continued. "One play we might be split out, one play we might be the fullback, and one play we might be the tight end. So you've got to be ready and have the capable skills to be able to do all that."
Taylor joked that there was another area in which he'd like to help the offense, but he admits it's highly unlikely.
"I'd like to throw the ball but I don't think they're going to let me do that," he said.
Taylor has been well-known over the past few years for his tremendous contributions for the Tar Heels on special teams.
One of only a handful of true freshmen to play for Carolina back in 2006, Taylor has earned a well-deserved place as a special teams captain for UNC.
"Special teams is a huge part of our game plan every weekend, so having guys like (Matt) Merletti, myself, some of the older guys---Anthony Elzy, Johnny White---and really having that veteran presence out there is going to make us hopefully give the offense and defense a better field position when they're starting (each new drive)," he said.
Taylor says that the veteran presence of this year's UNC offense is allowing the team to practice faster and not have to focus as much on implementing new schemes---they're focusing instead on what they've already learned and refining their collective talents.
"I think the first couple of years that we were here---a lot of young guys playing, a lot of guys didn't know the system, a lot of guys playing slower because of all those reasons, not knowing it (the plays)---but now I feel the guys know the positions. They've been playing it two, three years. They know the offense," he said.
"This year we've come out and really been able to work on stuff that's going to pertain to the season of trying to install stuff and things like that," he added.
In terms of goals for this season, Taylor didn't want to reveal any personal expectations.
For him, it's all about the team.
"Well, I think our team has big goals. As a whole, we've said we want to go out and win an ACC championship," he said. "That's a major goal of ours and I think we have the personnel to do it. We're just going to have to show up every week."
"Personal goals, it's kind of hard to set personal goals. I'm just every day trying to go out and work as hard as I can, and whatever comes of that will come of that. I'm not too worried about that (setting personal goals)," he added.
Having a healthy and productive Taylor in the mix can only serve to help the Tar Heels this fall.
With his combination of toughness, competitiveness, and experience, he can serve as a major catalyst for the UNC offense and on the all-critical special teams.