K Jay Taylor has made four of five field goals and all eight of his extra point tries since joining the Buccaneers
He has played on eight different teams, in four different leagues and in two different countries. Jay Taylor has definitely seen his fair share of what the football world has to offer.
"I never stayed anywhere longer than four months or six months," said Taylor, who is in his fourth week as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new kicker. "That was probably the toughest thing. I couldn't go out and get an apartment or a house or anything like that because I didn't know where I would be six months later."
Taylor, who signed on November 30 to replace long-time Buccaneer Martin Gramatica, isn't in his first go-around in the NFL, though this is his first regular-season opportunity. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 2000 but was cut prior to the start of the season.
Sandwiched in between that stint with the Dolphins and his current gig with the Bucs was a training camp with the Buffalo Bills in 2001; one season in the short-lived XFL with the Orlando Rage in 2001; part of the 2002 offseason with the Seattle Seahawks; training camp with the Cleveland Browns in 2003; a season with the Rhein Fire of the NFL Europe League in 2003; and, at the time the Bucs called, a job with the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League in 2004. He also spent one week on the Bucs' practice squad earlier in November.
That's a lot of frequent flyer miles, enough to make most NFL hopefuls cash them in and take a trip somewhere far away from football. But Jay Taylor is not most people; he never doubted that he could perform at an NFL level, given the opportunity, so he never gave up on his dream.
"I had always gotten good feedback from coaches and other players," said the Hershey, Pennsylvania native. "It had been frustrating throughout the years because you do perform well and you do get good feedback, but it just wouldn't work out. Just the thought that I could play at this level kept me going."
Now Taylor, who led the Arena League with a .720 field goal percentage last season (kicking between uprights half as far apart as the NFL's 18-foot span, has found a home in Tampa and, he said, "It feels great." But just as quickly he adds that he isn't satisfied with just making an NFL active roster for the first time. He is still pursuing his dream.
"There's no security in any job," said the 6-1, 196 pound kicker. "I feel that I have to prove myself not only each week, but each day at practice. It's been a real, long, tough road to get here, and I still have to prove myself."
So far, so good. Taylor has appeared in three games for the Bucs and has connected on four of his five field goal attempts, plus all eight of his extra point tries.
He made his NFL debut against the Atlanta Falcons on December 5, 2004, and his first-ever point came in the Atlanta game on an extra point after a four-yard Michael Pittman touchdown run in the first quarter. After he connected on the PAT, considered a given in most games, the Buccaneer faithful at Raymond James Stadium erupted in a loud cheer.
"I heard that," said Taylor. "That was kind of funny."
But the real fireworks went off after Taylor attempted his first career field goal attempt. The Buccaneers were facing a fourth-and-10 at the Falcons' 32-yard line and clinging to an insecure seven-point lead in the second quarter when Head Coach Jon Gruden decided to send his newly-acquired kicker in to attempt a 50-yard field goal.
Punter Josh Bidwell, who doubles as the team's holder on extra points and field goals, was a little surprised to be entering the game to hold for a placekick, not punt it away.
"I was laughing," said Bidwell, in his first season with the Buccaneers. "I ran out onto the field laughing, and thinking this is the funniest scenario I could have ever imagined."
The good feelings lasted when Taylor nailed it, then added a 30-yard field goal later in the game to finish out a perfect afternoon. He scored nine points in the team's 27-0 victory, connecting on both field goals and all three extra points.
"I went up to Jay on the sidelines [after the 50-yard field goal] and said, 'Did you ever imagine this scenario would play out for you to start your career here?,'" said Bidwell. "And he said, 'No.' We got a good chuckle out of that."
There were probably a few thousand fans in the stands and maybe even a couple Buccaneer coaches who were holding their breath when Taylor approached the ball for that 50-yard try. The man doing the kicking, a man who only played one year of high school football, was as cool as could be.
"I went out there and I wasn't nervous," said Taylor. "I've never been nervous or felt any pressure in any kick in my whole life. It's just something that I've done for a lot of years now. It's something I feel comfortable doing. I never go out there to attempt a field goal and feel that I can't make it. It's something I feel I should do, and I just go out and try to bang it through the uprights."
A week before sending 65,000 Buc fans into delirious applause, Taylor was hanging out in Orlando watching Tampa Bay's previous game against the Carolina Panthers on television, and preparing for another season in the Arena League.
"It was pretty much to me just like watching any other game," said Taylor. "It was just a normal Sunday afternoon watching football for me."
Still, it would seem like a difficult transition to make in one little week, from spectator to man on the spot. Wouldn't it?
"It didn't look hard to me, watching him kick," said Rich Bisaccia, the Bucs' special teams coach. "He's a technical guy who understands his strengths and understands his weaknesses. He had a great week with us at practice, and it's something he's been doing for a long time, so he does it well."
Bisaccia said that having Taylor on the practice squad earlier in the season helped make the transition for Taylor a little smoother.
"He understood our schedule and what was expected of him through the course of the week, and then therefore each day," Bisaccia said. "He knew how many kicks and what we were going to do in order to see if he was able to handle the week and then handle the game after that. So, he did a good job with that."
Taylor is also an avid golfer, but getting in 18 holes as taken a back seat to football for the moment, understandably.
"I haven't played since I've been down here (in Tampa)," Taylor said. "In the offseason of the Arena League last year and any time before that, usually I play about three, maybe four times a week."
He has golfed ever since he was a little kid, and he proudly claims that, once he's had a couple weeks to get back in the flow, he is a scratch golfer.
But that can wait as he lives his dream of playing in the NFL. He will have 12 to 14 family members and friends attending the Buccaneers' regular season home finale against the Panthers this Sunday.
"That'll be great," said Taylor. "It will feel kind of like college with the whole family coming down."
It looks like this cool, confident kicker may have just hit a hole-in-one with the Buccaneers.