Colorado linebacker finds balance between football and faith
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By PAT GRAHAM
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) Davion Taylor might have been great in high school, if he had played in games, rather than just practiced with his team.
Hard to really know.
The hints of the hybrid linebacker's talent, however, may just be presenting themselves at Colorado this season.
As a Seventh-day Adventist, Taylor observed the Sabbath from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays during his high school days by resting and worshipping. Meaning, he didn't play in Friday night games. So he didn't star at South Pike High in Mississippi and instead helped fill water bottles before games, then headed home for prayer.
He didn't give up on his dream, though.
Taylor adjusted his religious observances once he turned 18, attended Coahoma Community College, caught the eye of Colorado, and now everyone's seeing what South Pike High's best practice player looks like in the big time .
"I sometimes doubt myself since I didn't play high school ball. But I know I'm good enough," said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Taylor, who had a fumble recovery in a win at Nebraska on Saturday as the Buffaloes moved to 2-0. "I know I made it here for a reason."
Taylor hails from Magnolia, Mississippi. He's the son of Stephanie Taylor, who was drawn to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in her early 20s and raised Davion and his older brother Ladarris on the teachings of the religion. Friday nights were for tranquility of mind in keeping the Sabbath. The family prayed, studied the bible and watched Christian programming.
And Saturdays were reserved for church.
"This was a way to keep us spiritually fed," his mother said.
As a kid, Taylor frequently attended the youth practices of his friends - just to watch and study the game.
He eventually went out for the middle school football team. His coach, John Culpepper, can still recall the first time he spotted Taylor, who was all of 120 pounds at the time.
"A little bitty fella," said Culpepper, who would later be his varsity coach his senior year at South Pike. "You sometimes overlooked them when they're that small. But not him. You could see he had all the talent in the world."
At South Pike High, he prepared like he was a starter and went through all the drills, even if he wasn't going to see the field. He was like another coach out there.
For Friday night home games, the routine was pretty much the same: Prepare the Gatorade, help line the field and set up the equipment. He would have the pregame meal with the team, wish them luck and head home before sundown.
His friends texted updates. When he had a chance, he'd watch the game film.
"I know," he said, "that I could've helped get us a win or make plays."
In his senior season, Taylor suited up in one game, since it was an early kickoff and well before sunset. From his safety position, he remembers having an interception and 10 tackles.
Mostly, though, it was just the grind of drills.
"As I was practicing, I just kept thinking, `This will just make my story even better,'" said Taylor, a state champion sprinter and triple jumper in high school who missed the state meet his junior year because it was held on a Saturday. "I was like, `I'm going to try out somewhere.'"
When he turned 18, his mom left his path up to him - his decisions were his to make, she said. He wanted to play football on the next level even if that meant playing on a Friday or Saturday.
"You have to give them rope," his mom said. "I always wanted to see him strive to be the best."
Taylor wants this to be clear: He wasn't choosing football over his faith. His religion remains of utmost importance to him. He was trying to make both fit harmoniously into his life.
"If I'm doing this good and making it this far, I felt like God is on my side when it comes to this," Taylor said. "He wouldn't bring me this far just to let me fail and not be on my side."
The dilemma: Getting recruiters to take notice with basically no game film. Culpepper put in a good word for him at Coahoma, a school that was featured in an episode of the football documentary "Last Chance U" for a losing streak.
"I told coaches, `He's an athlete. Teach him to play, he'll be great,'" Culpepper said.
As a walk-on at Coahoma, Taylor was nearly cut. He said he earned one of the last spots.
His freshman season he started the final three games as he moved to linebacker. His sprinter's speed and raw ability attracted the attention of the Buffaloes, who told him they were interested.
Taylor turned in a monster sophomore season with 87 tackles. He was rated the top junior college outside linebacker in the country.
More schools expressed interest: Ole Miss, Arkansas, Baylor and Vanderbilt, to name a few. He honored his commitment to the Buffaloes after they showed early faith in him.
Taylor enrolled last January and went through spring practice while also competing in track. He finished sixth at the Pac-12 championships in the 100 meters.
To improve on the track, he studies the technique of Jamaican standout Usain Bolt, the world-record holder in the 100 and 200.
To improve on the field, the junior watches the moves of Broncos great Von Miller. Taylor is a hybrid linebacker in Colorado's scheme and came up with a fumble recovery in the 33-28 win over Nebraska.
"He's really catching on," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Every day you see the light bulb go off a little more."
Especially in practice, where he's long excelled.
"I just see myself getting better and better," Taylor said. "It just gives me more and more belief that I can make it."
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Updated September 10, 2018