Courtney Taylor began to feel the twitches in his right eye in 2008.
They prevented the receiver from seeing the ball the way he normally would. Taylor was playing for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks at the time.
Little did he know then that they would lead to him being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an often crippling disease that attacks the central nervous system and often affects a person’s vision.
Taylor was released by the Seahawks in 2009 and has struggled to return to the gridiron. Taylor will suit up for his first game with the B.C. Lions (9-4) on Saturday as they host the surging Calgary Stampeders (8-5) in a battle for first place in the CFL’s West Division.
He joined B.C. on Oct. 11, 2011, but has yet to play a down in the regular season.
“I’ve been waiting for this for about three years,” said Taylor.
The chance to shine in such an important game comes after Taylor searched in vain for a break. After being released by the Seahawks, he spent two years out of football, working as a mover in Seattle while completing a degree in business administration.
“I came from the streets. ... I was at home. When I got this opportunity, I was excited to come back and play football. That’s how I view it. I get an opportunity to play and do something I love, so I want to take advantage of my opportunity (against Calgary.)”
He will start in place of Arland Bruce (concussion-like symptoms) as the Lions attempt to atone for a loss in Saskatchewan last weekend. In addition to Bruce, top B.C. receiver Geroy Simon is out with a hamstring injury.
The onus is on Taylor, Nick Moore, who will start in place of Simon, and B.C.’s young receivers to play well as the playoffs and a chance for first place and an opening-round bye draw closer.
“The thing is, this is our opportunity,” said Taylor, a 28-year-old Carrollton, Ala., native.
“This is our opportunity to step up and show the coaches that, hey, you guys made the right decision by keeping us here and putting us behind some of the best receivers ever to play the game, in my opinion, in (Bruce) and (Simon).”
Taylor is now in remission, showing no ill effects of any kind, and takes medication once a day to keep it in check.
“The only time I think about it is when I take a little pill every day,” he said.
The former Auburn star became his school’s all-time leading receiver with 153 receptions for 2,098 yards and nine touchdowns from 2003 to 2006. But he played sparingly with Seattle from 2007 to 2009 before the Seahawks waived him and there were no takers.
“It means a lot to me to show this (Lions) organization the guy that they invested in, because it was like I was giving up,” he said. “Nobody was gonna give me no shot. But these guys gave me a shot, and that’s the biggest thing going in. I want to prove to these guys that they made a good decision for future guys who have MS — because it scares people. People who are not really educated about (MS), it scares them.”
Fellow Lions receiver Marco Iannuzzi’s mother has MS and the Calgary native participates in several charitable events and other activities in a bid to help find a cure. Iannuzzi said Taylor is in a much better state than many other MS sufferers.
“He’s obviously in full remission,” said Iannuzzi. “I think it’s fantastic that he’s able to keep his health in order to perform at the professional level at this stage.”
He praised Taylor for putting in extra work after practice to earn his starting spot. Iannuzzi, who is in his second year with the Lions is also being rewarded for his hard work.
He scored two touchdowns against Saskatchewan and now has five on the year after failing to find the end zone in a rookie campaign spent primarily on special teams. Taylor, Iannuzzi, Moore and the other young receivers strive to emulate Simon and Bruce, the acknowledged leaders of a close unit, who have accumulated 1,360 receiving yards.
Iannuzzi is confident that he and his peers can make up for Bruce and Simon’s absence.
“As a young receiver, you couldn’t ask for a better place to learn,” said Iannuzzi. “People always ask: Oh, what’s going to happen with Geroy and Arland out? They’re the guys that have been teaching us this whole time when they were in. Hopefully, we can learn something. We would be foolish not to learn something (while) watching them and being behind them all the time.”
Lions quarterback Travis Lulay said Taylor and Moore have important roles to play, and he fully expects them to come in and play at a high level. The signal-caller also hopes the young receivers can help the club overcome slow starts.
B.C. has generated only 18 first-quarter points in the past seven games.
“We haven’t been good enough early in the football game,” said Lulay.
Notes—Stamps running back Jon Cornish and B.C. counterpart Andrew Harris have a chance to make history Saturday. Cornish, a New Westminster, B.C., native has already surpassed 1,000 yards on the season, and Harris, a Winnipeg product, has a chance to reach the mark against Calgary. If Harris gets there, it will mark just the third time in CFL history that two Canadian-born players have run for over 1,000 yards in the same season. ... B.C. offensive lineman Jesse Newman, who has missed every game so far because of a knee injury suffered in training camp, will play his first game albeit in a backup role. Guard Patrick Kabongo will start in place of the injured Jon Hameister-Ries (back). ... B.C. defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell is expected to miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury. Fellow defensive lineman Eric Taylor, who has been bothered by a sore back this week and missed some workouts, will play.