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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Taylor Travis is heading home. No, not because the freshman phenom is homesick, but because the forward is making a brief stop where it all started.

This weekend, Travis and the No. 5 Gators (6-0-0) venture to North Carolina for their biggest road trip of the season.

Tonight, when Florida pulls into Durham to take on No. 17 Duke (5-1-1) at 8:45 p.m., the teams will play just 20 minutes from Travis’ hometown of Cary. There, in a small suburb, Travis’ highway to Gainesville was paved.

At 4-years-old, Travis’ mom asked her if she wanted to play baseball or soccer. “I wanted to play anything,” she said, “so I told her both.”

Travis first laced up the boots as a bright-eyed kid on Cary’s YMCA fields. Before she was a Gator, she was a Sun, and she wore a school bus yellow jersey to every game.

As Travis got older, she became better than a lot of boys. She began playing in the Olympic Development Program pool at age 12. When high school came around, already on a club and ODP team, Travis decided high school soccer wasn’t worth the time.

“If you want to be the best you have to train like the best,” Travis said. “That’s not to say high school soccer isn’t good for people, it’s just that what I was looking for was a little different.”

Travis trained with a local boy’s club team in town and aimed sights on college soccer.

With scholarships from all over the country, Travis decided to leave the soccer hotbed of North Carolina. 

After assistant coach Victor Campbell saw Travis play in a Thanksgiving ODP tournament, he quickly told UF head coach Becky Burleigh they needed to check out the talented high school senior.

“We got into the [recruiting] game really late with Taylor, but when she came on her visit we connected really well and it all worked out,” Burleigh said.

Despite visiting Gainesville during Christmas break when no players were around, Taylor committed to Florida because of her admiration and respect for Burleigh.

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“Becky was my deciding factor in coming here,” she said. “I love her to death and I can’t imagine playing anywhere else.”

In the years since trading the yellow jersey for one that is orange and blue, Travis has developed a steadfast attitude and supreme resolve. Tattooed down her rib cage is the phrase “whatever it takes.”

This weekend, playing in front of family and friends, the freshman looks to take those words to heart and help the Gators win on the road.

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