ATLANTA — On the morning of her College GameDay debut in a city that shaped her, ESPN’s Maria Taylor imagines euphoria.
She pictures a strong toss Saturday from host Rece Davis, whose voice from downtown Atlanta before the Alabama-Florida State clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will introduce a new college football season to rabid followers through the country. She envisions fans screaming so loudly that she can’t hear herself talk, with the crowd charged for one of the most-anticipated season openers of all time.
At that instant, Taylor will look into the camera and introduce herself as part of her rising ESPN stardom, remaining mindful of the moments that molded her.
“I just can’t believe it,” Taylor tells SEC Country. “One, I can’t believe that the first game of the season is Alabama and Florida State. On top of that dream, being in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time and being in my hometown of Atlanta, the very first time that I work GameDay, the very first time I work an ABC prime game will be in my hometown.
“So you couldn’t have written a better script, I feel like, for me and my career.”
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The script for Taylor, a native of nearby Alpharetta, Ga., is many years in the making. On this recent Thursday, the former Georgia volleyball and women’s basketball player sits outside at a table within the Buckhead neighborhood as the morning’s buzz within a busy financial district carries on close by. She’s revisiting a journey that led her to becoming a reporter on College GameDay and ABC Saturday Night Football, after Sam Ponder vacated the position in March to work on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.
“I was working on SEC Nation last year, and it was my first season doing it,” says Taylor, who joined ESPN in 2012 and worked at the SEC Network since 2014. “So I really didn’t think that I was necessarily in the running for the position, because I was thinking, ‘I want to learn how to be a really great host, and I’m learning SEC Nation, and I loved it.’ I love SEC Network, so I wasn’t sure that there was going to be an opportunity. But at the same time, if it appears, you have to take that. It’s GameDay. It’s the ABC prime [reporter job]. But when I got the call, I was surprised. I hadn’t had a lot of conversations about it.”
That call came in May from Lee Fitting, senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s college studio shows, during the week…