It takes a lot of words to describe Larry Taylor: Game breaker, head shaker; a fast-forward blur of a ball carrier who has put the special in the Calgary Stampeders special teams this season.
But Taylor uses different words to describe himself: Self-driven, professional, fortunate. How else do you explain it, he said of his football tale.
He’s a 5-foot-6, 177-pound former NFLer whose time with the Montreal Alouettes produced a rush of rewards. A CFL all-star selection. A most outstanding special teams player award. A Grey Cup championship and wide-spread respect, which helped earn him a spot with the Stampeders.
They wanted Taylor because they’d tried to tackle him for two full seasons when he was with the Montreal Alouettes. When he became a free agent in February, the Stamps signed him in an eye blink. Now, Taylor’s new team is about to face his old team Saturday at McMahon Stadium. It’s a potential Grey Cup preview and he knows precisely what to expect.
“These two teams are well-prepared and talented. It will always come down to the end,” Taylor predicted, “because both teams make a lot of big plays.”
To be 5 foot 6 and successful in a monsters’ game is to be self-driven. And by being motivated, Taylor is also professional, doing extra work on the practice field before watching game video with Calgary special teams coach Mark Kilam.
As for being fortunate, Taylor wants people to know his story; how he was raised by his grandmother in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., then rescued from their gangland neighbourhood by a couple of guardian angels. It happened when Taylor was barely into his teens. The fathers of two of his youth football teammates took a liking to him and ended up helping him transfer to a different high school in a safer neighbourhood.
To this day, Taylor calls and talks with his twin benefactors, David Lucca and Ross Tieder, just to let them know he’s still doing fine.
“They took me away from a very dangerous, rough environment. Violence, guns, drugs, prostitution. It wasn’t a great place,” Taylor said. “Without them [Lucca and Tieder] I wouldn’t be in this position … I could be buried in some jail system or in a grave. I had nowhere to go.”
At Glades Day School, Taylor hit his stride. He was a star running back and kick returner. Big universities loved his speed, hated his size. So he enrolled at Connecticut, where he scored a return touchdown in two bowl game appearances.
Virtually ignored by the NFL, he signed with Montreal. His scorching exploits there earned him an offer with the New York Jets, where he was cut, re-signed, then cut again. By the time he rejoined the Als, they were content with Tim Maypray.
(Maypray won’t play Saturday; Perry Floyd will handle the return duties.)
The Stampeders were only too happy to step up, contract in hand.
“When we first signed Larry and I spoke to him, I was nothing but impressed,” Kilam said. “He’s been a proven playmaker in the CFL. That’s the biggest thing we were looking for. He’s special with the ball in his hands. He takes our return game to another level.”
But there’s more, Kilam insisted.
“He comes to work every day. He comes in on players’ days off and gets his [video]reads with me so he can get a jump on things. He doesn’t just put it all on for one week then fall off the next. He’s always the same.”
Taylor is second in the CFL in return yardage (737) and has another 96 yards and a touchdown via receiving and rushing. His zip has given the Stampeders their most spirited return game in years, something sorely needed. It’s also re-energized Taylor, who has stuck with his straight-ahead preparations for Saturday’s showdown, even if it is against his old friends.
“For me, it’s just another game, and they’re just like any other opponent. I still speak to those [Alouettes players]but business is business. It’s about winning.”
And thanking your good fortune, too.
“You need help. That’s what it comes down to,” Taylor said. “When you’re 15, 16, that’s an important period in your life. That’s when you need some guidance. I was lucky. I got it.”