KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Former Tennessee cornerback Alontae Taylor's NFL dream came true on Friday. The New Orleans Saints drafted Taylor in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
"My phone started buzzing and I looked at it hoping it wasn't just someone randomly calling me," Taylor said when he got the call from New Orleans.
"It was the New Orleans Saints. I saw the 504 area code and I jumped up, picked my phone up, and quieted the entire room down. Coach Allen was on the phone and my mind went blank. I don't even remember the full conversation. My favorite word at that time was, 'Let's get it, coach,'" he said.
Taylor is now part of the only one percent of football players that make it to the NFL. It's a goal Taylor set for himself in the first grade.
Taylor's inspiration and motivation came from his late grandmother.
"I remember when I was younger, one day I was sitting on the couch," Taylor said. "I was just like, 'Grandma, I am going to go to the NFL one day.' My grandma was just kind of looking at me and she just was like, 'Okay, grandson.' I mean, I was in the first grade, but I was like, 'Grandma, I am going to go to the NFL.'"
Taylor's grandmother passed away when he was just 10 years old but was still present when Taylor's call to the NFL came in. Taylor put a picture of his grandmother right in front of him during the draft and hugged it as the first thing he did as a New Orleans Saint.
"My grandma taught me right from wrong as a kid," Taylor said. "My grandmother always gave me those words of affirmation as a kid. I feel like the only thing I'd love to hear my grandmother say is 'I'm proud of you' in her voice and her accident.
Alontae Taylor began his Tennessee career as a wide receiver but switched to the secondary his freshman season. In Taylor's four years as a Vol, he had four interceptions, 19 pass deflections and 162 total tackles.
He started all 12 games his senior season while battling through a toe injury. Taylor opted out of what would have been his final game as a Vol -- the Music City Bowl -- to get healthy for the NFL combine.
"It was really hard," Taylor said on not playing in Tennessee's final game. "The biggest thing for me was, how do I do this without feeling bad for the defensive back room specifically. I had a conversation with those boys before I announced it publicly. Those guys loved on me, they've done it throughout the entire draft process. They said they understand."
Taylor said the bond he shares with his Tennessee teammates runs deep. He now joins five other former Vols on the Saints' roster -- Marquez Callaway, Alvin Kamara, Bryce Thompson, Ethan Wolf and Shy Tuttle.
Taylor said he immediately Facetimed Bryce Thompson after he was drafted to the Saints.
"He just started screaming at the phone," Taylor said. "Having those kinds of relationships is good because they are guys I know I can trust. I feel like I am going to go into this locker room as if I just walked into the Tennessee locker room today.
While making it to the NFL was a childhood dream for Taylor, he knows the journey has just begun.
"This is that one percent," Taylor said. "I've dreamt of this my entire life. I want to stay in the moment and understand, 'you finally made it kid, but you still have work to do.'"