Marcus Maye’s season began watching Florida beat New Mexico State 61-13 on Sept. 5 from the sidelines, forced to sit out the season-opener because of a violation of team rules.
But now, the redshirt junior can’t be kept off the field.
Since he’s come back from the suspension, Maye has been one of the critical elements of the Gators’ defense.
Being sidelined in the opener could’ve had dire consequences for Maye’s playing time since it was his first chance to show his value to the team for coach Jim McElwain.
It was a chance for Duke Dawson and Nick Washington to take away valuable playing time from Maye.
Instead, Maye has improved to the point that McElwain and the defensive coaching staff need him on the field.
The Melbourne, Florida, native credits the in-game experience as the reason why he’s taken his game to another level.
"Just you know being out there more," Maye said on Oct. 5. "I’ve been here a couple years and … getting used to the game, getting used to the tempo and stuff like that."
Maye has made his presence known this season.
In the eight games he’s played in this year for the No. 11 Gators, the safety is fourth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with two interceptions while leading the Gators with three forced fumbles.
McElwain said Maye was a big reason for Florida getting started in its 27-3 win against Georgia.
Maye got the first of the four interceptions that Georgia quarterback Faton Bauta threw during the game, and McElwain said that Maye was playing with a heavy heart.
"I think Marcus has done an outstanding job and actually got us kick-started in that Georgia game, which is great to see because he was mourning the loss of a very close family member that week," McElwain said.
"It was great to see him kind of playing for his why and that was pretty awesome."
Maye’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed nationally, either. Pro Football Focus, a site that grades every single player and every single play on a scale of minus-two and plus-two, has Maye as one of the highest ranked safeties in the country.
Prior to Florida’s 9-7 win against Vanderbilt, Maye had a rating of plus-15.7, which made him one of the most valuable safeties in the country.
His coverage grade of plus-10.7 led all safeties, and he also had a grade of plus-4.4 against the run among the highest in the nation.
Those numbers are also helped by the fact that Maye has had to play some linebacker because of the lack of depth for the Gators due to injuries.
Other than Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison, Florida doesn’t have a lot of bodies to use.
However, Maye has filled in and helped out the linebackers in certain defensive packages, which started in the third game of the season against Kentucky.
"If you were just (watching) film and not know what his jersey number is listed as or his position you would just say, hey that guy is a linebacker based on where he is lined up," McElwain said.
"For him to do that I think shows his versatility and his value. The guy’s played unselfish and that’s pretty cool to see."
With the Gators entering the final stretch of their regular season schedule, and with the continued lack of depth at linebacker, Maye will be counted on to continue his high level of play the rest of the way.
And he only wants to keep doing one thing: Continue to have the unselfish mentality he has and contribute any way possible.
"Just going out there and making plays for my team," Maye said.
"Just trying to do my part, do my job out there on defense. Just trying to contribute."
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UF safety Marcus Maye attempts to tackle Georgia quarterback Faton Bauta (10) during Florida's 27-3 win against the Bulldogs on Oct. 31, 2015, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.