CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jeremiah Taylor has played several roles since he first joined the Marshall football team's roster in 2010.
He began his Thundering Herd career as a pudgy, 300-pound telemarketer-turned-walk-on offensive lineman. Since then, he's chiseled away at the fat, revealing underneath a 255-pound team captain and Hendricks Award watch list member at defensive end.
The last thing he wanted to be in his final season, though, was a spectator.
That's what he had been for the last 10 games, stuck on the injury list with a fractured vertebra, unable to take the field as the Herd barreled its way into the Conference USA title game. Yet, like much of his journey as a college football player, after plenty of twists and turns, Taylor will finish in a happy place.
He'll finish his Marshall career on the field, cleared to play for the Herd's Dec. 27 Military Bowl match-up versus Maryland in Annapolis, Md.
There was a time, though, when that comeback wasn't a guarantee. The pain in his back became too much to bear during the Herd's loss at Ohio. He was out for a punt when the returner cut back and ran by. Taylor turned against his body, and he knew something was wrong.
A doctor's trip confirmed it: a fracture to his L5 vertebra, the one closest to the pelvis. When Marshall Coach Doc Holliday announced that Taylor would be out, he didn't offer a time frame. But the tone of his voice made it clear it wouldn't be short.
"There was a point about halfway through the season, when I got my CT scan, they were saying you might have a chance to come back and you might not," Taylor said.
Taylor didn't want his college career to end on the sideline. He didn't quit the $10-an-hour job at Sitel to walk on to the Herd's roster and transform himself into one of the most crucial members of the defense just to finish that journey in a warm-up suit rather than shoulder pads.
He persevered with the help of his family -- including the South Point, Ohio, native's wife Nakita, the mother of his two children - and his team. Some of the most sage advice came from fellow defensive lineman James Rouse, who missed nearly all of the previous two seasons with back and Achilles tendon injuries.
Rouse was in the exact predicament Taylor found himself - waiting for his body to heal and wondering whether he'd ever return to the field. It turned out all right for Rouse. In Rouse's first healthy season since 2010, he tied for fourth in the conference in tackles for loss and was named to the all-C-USA first team.
"Early during the season, when he first hurt his back, I was just letting him know that it's all going to be all right," Rouse said. "Everything happens for a reason, whether it's good or bad. You just have to try to push through it."