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83-Steelers-43
12-10-2006, 07:23 AM
Taylor battles through 'growing pains'

By John Harris
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, December 10, 2006


Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor already has experienced many of the proverbial highs and lows pro football has to offer.

A little-known fourth-round draft pick in 2003, Taylor became a starter last season and quickly developed into one of the NFL's elite shutdown corners as the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.

A dedicated professional, Taylor celebrated the Super Bowl win by traveling to Orlando, Fla., and immediately beginning his training for the upcoming season.

Three days before the opener against Miami, he signed a four-year extension valued at $23.75 million, according to a source close to the situation, the largest ever for a Steelers defensive back.

Many of the league's top cornerbacks such as Denver's Champ Bailey and Atlanta's DeAngelo Hall are featured in a Cover 2 defense, but Taylor's ability to cover the opponent's top receiver one-one-one separated him from the pack because he could protect half the field all by himself.

Surprisingly, two months after signing the contract, Taylor lost his starting job following subpar performances against Denver, New Orleans and Cleveland.

As he works to win his job back, Taylor, although disappointed and confused as to why he isn't in the starting lineup, exudes confidence and preaches diligence to the task at hand.

He sees the demotion as a stumbling block, nothing more.

He recalls the big plays he made, and realizes that a few bad games can't erase everything he has accomplished.

He remembers where he came from, his difficult upbringing in New Orleans, a city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and where many of his family members still live and try to rebuild their lives.

His love for his mother and an uncle who trained him to be a football player and, more important, how to become a man at an early age, is the driving force behind his motivation to get back in the starting lineup and return to the head of the cornerback class.

Taylor spoke recently with the Tribune-Review about his football career, his family, growing up in New Orleans, and how he copes with going from the highest highs to the lowest lows in the blink of an eyelash.

Trib: How did you react to losing your starting job?

Taylor: You're a reporter. It's like telling you that you've got to find another job, you can't be a reporter no more. That's what it's like telling a football player he can't play football. To be over there on that sideline watching the guys play, knowing I was out there (before), knowing what I can do, it definitely hurts.

Football is a 9-to-5, regardless of what people say. We get paid good money for it, but we put in a lot of hard work, a lot of time, we bang our bodies around, we make a whole lot of sacrifices that people don't know about.

You have a bad day at work, you have a bad day at work. I have a bad day at work, everybody knows about it.

Trib: Denver's Javon Walker caught six passes for 134 yards and two touchdows against you. What happened in that game?

Taylor: It's football. It's going to be some days like that. It's going to be some more days like that. But you want more positive days than negative days. He's a great receiver; had a good day. I didn't have an up-to-par day.

Trib: Are you the same defensive back as before? Did you lose a step?

Taylor: There's no step slow, no nothing. I've still got swagger. I've still got confidence. I was born with that. It's just growing pains. Every day ain't going to be sunny. You're going to have some rainy days. That's how I look at it.

I had swagger before football, before (signing a new contract), and going to have it after contract. I've been doing this stuff since I was small. I want to do it until my wheels fall off, until my body tells me I can't do it no more.

To be honest with you, my life always has been like this. I've always had to fight. Ain't never had it easy. Ever. The day I have it easy is the day I'm going to leave this earth.

They always say expect the unexpected, but you've definitely got to expect the unexpected.

Trib: Were you told why you're not starting?

Taylor: I really can't put my hands on it. If I was to say something, I don't think I would really be saying the right thing.

Trib: Do you think you'll return to the starting lineup this season?

Taylor: Ike will be back. Don't know when. Don't know what time. But I'll definitely be back. Can't give you a date. Can't give you a game. But you'll know when I'm back.

As for being in there or not being in there, of course I want to be in there. But at the same time, some things you can't control.

I looked in the mirror and told myself people go through this all the time. I'm not the first person to go through this, and I ain't going to be the last.

Trib: You were born in New Orleans. Did Hurricane Katrina affect you and your family?

Taylor: Somewhat. But everybody got out safe. There are a lot of materialistic things that we lost, but you can always get that back. My main concern was everybody getting out. My mama (Cora Taylor), she's in Raleigh, N.C. But other than her and a few aunts, everybody else is in New Orleans. Our family's so big. Right now, they're scattered. Some in Texas, some in Atlanta, some in Florida, some in St. Louis, some in California. My cousins, the younger group, they moved. The older group, my aunts and uncles, that's home, New Orleans is home for them. It's not like they really want to leave. They're going to stay in New Orleans thick and thin, no matter what the situation is.

Me and (guard) Alan Faneca, we both have families in Louisiana. He's close to New Orleans. The organization (Steelers) really helped out, pitched-in, helped out big time. Big donations.

I watched the hurricane for two days. After that, I couldn't take it. It was killing me, just to see everybody lose everything. You knew it was going to happen. You didn't know when it was going to happen. They've been saying it was going to happen for 30, 40 years, and it finally happened. So when it finally happened and hits home, especially when it hits your family, that even hurts worse.

It was tough, but you've got to be able to survive. That's my family. We're survivors.

Trib: How did your family help you become a rich and famous professional athlete?

Taylor: I had a great family backbone. My mama and my uncle (Herman Francois) helped me tremendously. My mother is like my friend. We've been through a lot, a whole lot -- ups and downs. It's a lot of stuff people don't see, people don't know. It was tough growing up. Then the role switched when I moved with my uncle. He didn't have kids, so he treated me like his kid. Things got better. I saw a different side of life. Those two -- no question -- helped me out big in my life.

Trib: You're from the Ninth Ward area that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. What are your recollections of growing up there?

Taylor: It sounds crazy, but for fame in New Orleans, it was either playing sports or doing crime, one of the two. That was how you got famous. At the high school (Abramson High) I went to it was tough. You know how humid it gets in New Orleans? No A/C. You can only imagine how hard it was for us to go to school from January to the summertime in the heat with no A/C. We had everything from guys who played college and pro basketball, to murderers. We always had the athletes. They just couldn't get out of that 504 area code.

Trib: How did you get out?

Taylor: I wanted to. The bad guys always looked at me like their little brother. They're not going to let nothing happen to me. You're a real cool guy, you're smart. You see what we're doing ain't right, but at the same time you're trying to get something going for yourself. We're not even going to try to persuade you to go that way with us. If you want to, that's your choice. But we ain't going to let that happen. So I took the opposite route, and here I am today.

In New Orleans, you've got to grow up quick. When I went back and saw 13, 14 year olds on the corner tap-dancing, playing saxophones, right now that's the only way they know how to survive. If you listen to some of the kids who were affected who come on CNN and TV and listen how they talk, man, those kids had to grow up quick.

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