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Ike Taylor ( 1980 - )  Category ( Athletes ) [suggest a correction]
 

It's a bit ironic that Ike Taylor was referred to by most National Football League scouts as a "sleeper" when he played for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. During his teens, Taylor didn't do much sleeping at all.

Instead, the current Pittsburgh Steelers' star cornerback joined his uncle, Herman Francois, on the graveyard shift for a janitorial company in the New Orleans area. During the day, he went to school, worked out, and played football and basketball. Sleep was rarely an option.

It was Francois who put his nephew on the path to NFL stardom, introducing him to a training regimen that was something of a drag -- literally. Francois would sit in an oversized tire, connect it to Taylor by a rope around his waist, and tell him to pull him for two or three miles. Those daily workouts helped Taylor develop the speed (4.3 in the 40) that later allowed him to shut down such dangerous NFL receivers as Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald.

Francois also laid out a football field on a patch of grass, using baking soda instead of lime, and staged races between Taylor and rabbits (the rabbits, unlike Harrison, Moss & company, always won).

Nevertheless, Taylor was an undersized (6-2, 195) defensive end in high school in the New Orleans suburb of Harvey, LA, largely ignored by college recruiters despite his speed. Lousiana-Lafayette was one of the few schools that came calling, and it took two years for Taylor to get his grades up enough to take the field there. When he did, it was as a running back.

Finally, as a senior, Taylor found his true calling when he was switched to cornerback alongside Charles Tillman, now with the Chicago Bears. Tillman was so good that opposing teams tried to organize their pass plays away from his side of the field. That meant Taylor got to show what he could do on a regular basis, and his confidence grew.

Picked by Pittsburgh in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft, Taylor rode the bench for awhile, learning the system. It was linebacker Joey Porter who went to coach Bill Cowher and suggested that Taylor be given a chance to start.

"He's got that swagger," Porter said, "and you love that in a cornerback."

In a 2007 interview, Taylor said: "Each week I look at the schedule and say, 'Coach, I need him. Can I have him?"

Meaning the other team's toughest receiver.

Taylor's signature play as a Steeler came in the 2006 Super Bowl, when he stopped a Seattle Seahawks' drive with a goal line interception.

"Just seeing that click with four zeroes in the fourth quarter, with the whole world watching," he said after the Steelers became world champions, "now, that is a great feeling."

A feeling he'd like to have again.


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