By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – Terrance Taylor began his remarkable football journey in Muskegon, and now he’s coming home to pursue the next phase.

Taylor, a former Muskegon High School and University of Michigan star who became a standout in the Arena Football League (the major league of pro indoor football), has decided to join the West Michigan Ironmen arena football team.

Terrance Taylor in 2016, when he played for the Orlando Predators.

The Ironmen will kick off their second season on Friday with a game in Bloomington, Illinois, and will open at home on March 11 with a game against Bismarck at L.C. Walker Arena.

But Taylor’s return to Muskegon is about more than just football.

Last spring he completed his season as the starting defensive nose tackle for the Orlando Predators of the AFL.

He planned on looking for a new team in the AFL this season, but came into contact with Terrance Williams, the owner of the Ironmen and the new PEAK Training Facility in downtown Muskegon.

Williams was preparing to launch a new initiative called the PEAK Elite program, to benefit selected student-athletes from area high schools who aspire to compete at the collegiate level.

The program will prepare local athletes “mentally, academically, financially, as well as athletically for the rigors of being a college student athlete,” according to Williams.

The idea of working with young athletes struck a chord with Taylor, so he decided to take a year off from professional football to become executive director of the PEAK Elite program.

“My mission is to help student-athletes achieve their goals and visions, not just on the field, but in the classroom and in life,” said Taylor, who said he’s been back in Muskegon for several months working on the launch of the program.

A long as Taylor was in town, Williams naturally wondered if he would consider lending his talents to the local team, even though he is clearly overqualified for the Champions Indoor Football league, which the Ironmen joined this year.

After giving it some thought, Taylor decided to play.

“That decision was made two days ago,” said Taylor, who added that he intends to continue his AFL career in 2018, after one year of serving the PEAK Elite program and playing for the Ironmen.

“Most people around here haven’t seen me play since high school. I thought about it and decided I would like the opportunity to give something back and play in front of people who have been watching me and supporting me since I was in middle school.

“It’s going to be nice to play in front of people who have been there for me from the beginning.”

Williams said Taylor will make a big difference in Muskegon, as a football player and a leader for aspiring young athletes in the PEAK Elite program.

“We’re very fortunate to have Terrance back home,” Williams said. “What he’s going to give us, both on and off the field, can’t be measured.”

Taylor’s football story includes a lot of twists and turns, and success at every stop along the way.

He had two days of experience in little league football as a youngster living in Milwaukee, before he was hurt in practice and pretty much forgot about the sport.

But Taylor was a really big kid, so he was quickly noticed by coaches when his family moved to Muskegon and he enrolled at Bunker Middle School.

He played two years of middle school football, took to the game like a fish in water, and became an instant starter for the Muskegon High School varsity squad as a freshman.

He was an All-State lineman as a junior and senior, and was named the Detroit Free Press and Associated Press 2004 Class A Michigan Player of the Year. That was the same year the Big Reds beat Orchard Lake St. Mary’s to win the Class A state championship.

He recorded 203 tackles during his high school career, included 38 sacks.

He was also a state power lifting champion as a sophomore, junior and senior, and a state wrestling champion as a senior.

Taylor was ranked 23rd on a list of the greatest high school football players in Michigan history in 2014.

He was recruited to the University of Michigan by legendary football coach Lloyd Carr, and played four seasons for the Wolverines, including the last three as the starting nose tackle.

Again he was a big success, registering 104 tackles, including 17.5 for losses, with 6.5 sacks. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection following his junior year.

After college he tried to break into the National Football League, but never quite stuck with a team.

He made it to the final cut in training camp with the Indianapolis Colts in 2008,and spent some time with the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions practice squads, but never made the regular roster.

Taylor broke into arena football in 2011 with the Spokane Shock of the AFL, and was traded to a now-defunct Pittsburgh team midway through his first season. He spent the next season and a half in Pittsburgh before becoming a free agent and returning to Spokane, where he spent 2013 through 2015.

Last year he played for the Orlando Predators of the AFL, but said he planned on signing with a new team this season, even before the Predators ceased operations last fall.

One of Taylor’s highlights last season came in an April 18 game against Jacksonville. He sacked the opposing quarterback, forced a fumble and recovered it, leading to the winning touchdown in the Predators’ 63-56 victory.

The Orlando coach presented Taylor with the game ball after the victory.

In six AFL seasons, the 6-1, 300-pound Taylor had 86.5 total tackles (including 24 for losses), 23 quarterback sacks, 15 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and three pass breakups.

Those statistics might have been even more impressive. but opposing offensive linemen often focused on blocking Taylor, according to former Orlando Predators General Manager Michael Dejulio.

“He’s definitely a standout in the league,” Dijulio said. “If he’s not applying pressure (on opposing quarterbacks), he’s freeing up his teammates to do so.”