For the first time in his career, Grandville Taylor is surrounded by teammates who have more talent than he does.
Over the past four years, Taylor has been a clear-cut star in his roles for the Arizona State Sun Devils, however small those roles may have been.
In 2009, Taylor earned a spot on the roster as a redshirt walk-on and outshined his peers on the scout team. The following season, Taylor outworked his teammates in the weight room and earned the Hard Hat player award for his incredible work ethic.
In 2011, the 6-foot linebacker outperformed his fellow special teams warriors and played in all 12 games. Finally, in 2012, Taylor bested his fellow backups when they saw time in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl by racking up a career high with eight tackles.
This season, the rising senior faces his toughest task yet. After mastering smaller roles within the program, Taylor has an opportunity to earn a starting job on one of the most highly touted Arizona State defenses in recent memory.
"My main goal for the spring is just to elevate myself in the position to be a starter and to show these coaches that they can trust me on the field as a starter," Taylor said. "Like I said, this is just one step in the right direction and I'm going to keep going from here."
Taylor has been taking steps in the right direction since he joined the Arizona State football team. Though he looks the part of an impact player, the San Francisco native has struggled to fit in.
As a former walk-on, Taylor faced long odds at contributing at the college level. The linebacker matriculated from Washington High School, a member of the Academic Athletic Association which consists of San Francisco public schools.
The majority of the schools in the AAA conference struggle to field full rosters, and Taylor played on and against teams that barely had 20 players.
Despite his humble beginnings on the field, Taylor's passion and will helped him earn a chance that few San Francisco public school athletes get: the opportunity to play college sports.
"It's only a few people that I actually played football with in high school that are doing what I'm doing now," Taylor said. "To do this for San Francisco, it's a great feeling for me."
When the Sun Devils received the nod to play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl last season, few players were as excited as Taylor. Competing in front of family and friends back at home, the linebacker delivered the best game of his collegiate career.
"I feel like that was just one step in the right direction to just elevate my game and my team," Taylor said.
After proving himself as an understudy, Taylor is grateful to Coach Graham and his staff for rewarding him with an academic scholarship and a shot at earning meaningful playing time.
"It's a great feeling. I feel like it's an opportunity to get better and just help my team out," Taylor said.
Though he's taking first-team reps this spring, Taylor knows he still has plenty of work to do to win a job. The Sun Devils rely heavily on their wealth of talent in the front seven, and they'll need a high-energy player to replace Brandon Magee.
As Magee enters the NFL ranks, his legacy lives on with teammates like Taylor. Taylor credits last year's captain as a guiding presence, and he wants to carry on the spirit that Magee brought to the squad.
"Brandon provided a lot of energy for everybody. With his absence from that role, I'm trying to provide the same thing," Taylor said. "He taught me a lot, he taught all of us a lot so I'm just trying to follow in his footsteps and provide a lot of energy to the team and just continue to get better."
The road has never been easy, but for Taylor, success has always been attainable. He's thrived in every role he's played so far, so why wouldn't the coaching staff look to him to stand in with the starters?
Taylor's journey from a San Francisco public school to becoming a major contributor at the college level isn't yet complete. He must finish the spring strong, endure a grueling summer of training, and earn a spot alongside teammates who have far more game experience.
However, Taylor is confident he belongs. It has taken awhile to develop, but his story might one day serve as an inspiration to athletes everywhere.
If all goes according to plan, Taylor's family and friends won't have to stay home to watch him start in a bowl game. His supporters will be able to take a vacation and view his final college game in Pasadena.
"I'm doing this for my family and my city like I always do. It's an extremely great feeling and I'm very proud of myself and everything I've been able to accomplish to this point."