Like thousands of recent college graduates across the country, Mike Taylor is living at home with his parents and looking for a job. Unlike the vast majority of his peers, however, it isn’t the tough job market that is preventing Taylor from beginning work.
Instead, it’s Taylor’s health. Or rather, his lack of health.
“It’s been unfortunate to have two surgeries after the season,” Taylor, the former University of Wisconsin linebacker standout, told FOXSportsWisconsin.com by phone this week. “I definitely wasn’t expecting that. Unlucky, but that’s the situation I’m in and all I can do like with any injury is just keep moving forward, get healthy and keep working.”
Taylor, an Ashwaubenon, Wis., native, is recovering from a second sports hernia surgery over a two-month span. The first surgery had been planned since late in the 2012 season, when his performance declined because of pain in his midsection. Taylor said the second surgery was completely unforeseen. As a result, he had to cancel his scheduled individual pro day for NFL scouts on March 27, which contributed significantly to him going undrafted in the seven-round NFL Draft in late April.
“I had the first surgery and that one just never did anything,” Taylor said. “I don’t think it was the right surgery. It didn’t really go after what was causing my problems. … To have a surgery and then have to have another one just seems kind of pointless.”
He initially underwent sports hernia surgery Jan. 7, just six days after Wisconsin’s 20-14 loss against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Taylor, who saw Dr. Michael Brunt in St. Louis, said he had surgery performed only on his left side at the time. But when he wasn’t progressing the way he thought he should, Taylor flew to Philadelphia for a second opinion. Dr. William Meyers then performed surgery March 12 on both of Taylor’s sides and completed an abductor release on his left side.
Meyers also performed sports hernia surgery on Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in February.
Taylor said he did not have a target date for his return, which has made it frustrating for him and difficult for his agent, Ron Slavin, to court NFL teams at this point.
“I haven’t really heard anything from teams,” Taylor said. “Not since earlier. Obviously, some teams are going on their way with practice now and we’ll see what happens. Guys can get hurt. It all depends on if I can get healthy.
“I can control what I can control. All I worry about is myself and getting better. If someone calls or something like that, I’ll be ready.”
During his four-year career at Wisconsin, Taylor started all 47 games in which he played. He registered 378 tackles, including 273 over the past two seasons as an outside linebacker. In 2012, he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media for a second straight year.
But the pain became especially unbearable during the last two games of the season, according to Taylor, and prevented him from even running to ball carriers at full speed. During the Big Ten championship against Nebraska and the Rose Bowl against Stanford, he averaged 4.0 tackles per game. In the previous 12 contests, he averaged 9.6 tackles.
“At first during the season it was pretty painful,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t really run. Now it’s just getting used to what’s sore, what you’ve got to work on, strengthening the muscles. Get used to running again and get comfortable with it. I don’t really feel pain right now. Obviously, I haven’t played in a game or pushed it to the point where you’ve got to sprint as hard as you possibly can. The past few weeks running-wise I haven’t really felt any pain.”
During Taylor’s recovery process, he has been lifting weights at his alma mater, Ashwaubenon High School, on weekdays before classes begin, from 5:30-7 a.m. He runs and does other drills to strengthen his core at home during the afternoons. And on weekends, when he visits the family cottage in White Potato Lake, he continues to do individual workouts.
The weightlifting sessions at the school have occurred alongside his brother, Rob, who is two years older, played football at UW-Stevens Point and was quarterback for Ashwaubenon’s 2005 state championship team. Rob, 25, has contributed to keeping his brother’s spirits up, according to Mike.
“It just helps to have a workout partner, a spotter and someone that lets you push yourself harder,” he said.
Taylor still believes he can help an NFL team when he finally returns to full strength. He credits his ability as an all-around linebacker — someone who hustles to the ball, tackles well and is reliable — as the reasons he’ll be able to succeed at the next level.
Until then, he’ll continue to train, hoping to eventually move out of his parents’ house and find work like so many other recent graduates.
“I just look at it as an unfortunate situation,” Taylor said. “I don’t really blame anyone. I’m the one with the injury. It’s unlucky to have that, especially during the senior season. It’s kind of just the way it is. You wish it wasn’t like that. There’s only one thing you can do and that’s get healthy.”