As he walked into the cafeteria at Price’s Fork Elementary School and saw a group of approximately 100 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders taking seats on the floor, Tyrod Taylor quickly came to a distinct conclusion.
Even with all his awards, all the big games that he’s played in, and all the millions he’s earned from a successful career in the NFL, Taylor was still the biggest kid in the building.
In town for the annual Spring Game on April 13 and various other social outings on one of his rare free weekends, the former Virginia Tech quarterback carved out time to spend nearly two hours at the school the Friday beforehand, imparting some wisdom on Blacksburg’s youth – of course, in the most fun of ways.
Stand there and give a stodgy speech to a bunch of energetic kids? Simply not Taylor’s style.
His messaging was interactive, talking mixed with throwing footballs, handing out cleats and helmets, signing autographs, and taking selfies.
“I was one of the kids that looked up to the people that used to come speak at our school, and I was one of those kids that paid attention to everything that was said because I wanted to get to that level, whether it be sports or just at the top of my profession,” Taylor said afterward. “Today was good to have interaction. It was the first time I had done something like that, but of course, just trying to give back to the community and trying to inspire the kids because I was once one of those kids sitting in those same seats and looking for inspiration to be the best version of myself.”
Taylor started out by encouraging the children to set goals for themselves. As a kid – roughly their age, actually – he made a list of 10 goals and taped the sheet to his bedroom wall. He said he didn’t remember goals 4-10, but he remembered his top goal of becoming an NFL player. He accomplished that in 2011 when the Baltimore Ravens selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Shortly after telling that to the children, he grabbed a football – one of five sitting next to him. Each football had a Post-It note taped to it, with a word written on the note. The five words were focus, balance, teamwork, pain, and believe.
He threw the balls into the hoard of kids, and he made each person who caught one of the footballs join him at the front of the group. He then made each child tell the audience what that word meant to him or her.
He stopped at teamwork and split all the children into two groups. He gave them five minutes to name a team captain and pick a mascot.
As expected, there was a little chaos among the 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds. Principal Kelly Roark, assistant principal Melanie Harrell and a couple of teachers jumped in to try to streamline the situation, but Taylor proved his point with the example.
“When you’re on a team, sometimes you have a lot of people, and everyone has an opinion,” he told them. “You have to work together to make a decision.”
He saved the word “believe” for last, telling the children to believe in themselves even when others may not.
“To never give up,” Taylor said of what was his overarching message. “There are going to be ups and downs. Even at the professional level that I’m at now, there are still good and bad days, but the idea is to keep striving and continue to keep chasing something that you’ve set your mind to.
“Don’t let things get in the way of it. There are going to be hiccups. There are going to be speed bumps. There are going to be things that throw you off the path, but continue to keep your focus on your original goal, and ultimately, you’ll get to it if you keep pursuing it. It may not come next week. It may not come tomorrow – but it may. You never know when it’s going to come, so keep chasing it, keep chasing the greatness within yourself, and everything will be fine.”
Taylor spent around 15 minutes answering questions from the children. He played at Tech from 2007-10, so most of the children, if not all of them, hadn’t been born when he played for the Hokies and made numerous memories on the sod at Lane Stadium. Still, many knew of him, presumably from parents and family members and possibly from watching him on television during his NFL career.
For sure, the kids asked great questions. Among those included:
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” “No, I’m an only child. I was an 11-pound baby, so my mom called it quits after that,” he said, laughing.
“How old are you?” “I’ll be 30 in August,” he said.
“What was your favorite moment?” “Beating Nebraska at Lane Stadium [in 2009],” he said. “Also, beating Miami [the Dolphins in the final regular-season game of 2017] and helping Buffalo end a 17-year playoff drought. There were 5,000 fans at the airport when we got back [from Miami].”
The Q&A session was supposed to mark the end of the day for Taylor. But the kid in him refused to allow the kids in front of him to leave without … well, just a little something more.
Thus, an impromptu photograph and autograph session began. A couple of photographers took shots of Taylor with the entire group. The school staff joined in the fun, with teachers taking selfies with Taylor and also having photos taken of him with their respective classes.
Taylor’s autograph became like trick-or-treat candy, and he signed shirts, sweatshirts and shoes. He shook hands, delivered hugs and handed out fist-bumps.
It truly was Ut Prosim in the most meaningful of ways.
“It [Virginia Tech] had a very big impact on me,” Taylor said. “Coach [Frank] Beamer was one of the special coaches that I’ve had throughout my career. We’d have to go out [into the community] after spring practices, and some guys didn’t understand it, but looking back on it, it created men and not just boys in the locker room.
“The things we had to do, help others and serve others in the community, help the freshmen moving in – as a senior, you might not want to do that. But like I said, the older that you get and the more experience that you get, the more you go through life, you understand that it’s about serving others. The more that you can do that, then the better we are as a community.”
Taylor plans to take that same attitude to Los Angeles, his new NFL home. He signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Chargers in mid-March, a move that reunites him with Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, who served as his offensive coordinator for one season while in Buffalo. Taylor will be the backup to starter Phillip Rivers.
The team will be Taylor’s fourth since he became a professional. He backed up Joe Flacco in Baltimore for four seasons, winning a Super Bowl ring in 2012, before moving to Buffalo in 2015, a place where he started 43 games in three seasons and competed 62.6 percent of his passes with 51 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Buffalo traded him to Cleveland last year, and he spent an injury-marred season with the Browns before signing with Los Angeles last month.
“It’s all been a blessing,” he said. “If I had listened to what they had told me when I first came out of college, I shouldn’t be playing right now. I wouldn’t have made it as far as I made it. So I’m thankful for the people who told me I couldn’t and the people that believed that I could.”
Beamer, of course, believed in Taylor. Former assistants Jim Cavanaugh and Curt Newsome believed in him. Then-offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring believed in him, along with then-quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain. His teammates believed in him, as he and the Hokies won three ACC titles in his four seasons – two of those coming with him as the starter.
Hokie Nation also believed in him, and he became one of the most beloved players in program history. That is why he comes back when he can and does things like speaking to elementary school children – it serves as his way of thanking a community that treated him so warmly.
“They’ll always have a special place in my heart, and I appreciate the things that they’re doing in the community and the things that they’re doing on the athletics side,” Taylor said. “If you haven’t been to Blacksburg, it’s special. It takes for someone to come here to appreciate it.
“Being here for four years and being able to come here years after, it’s a special place.”
–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics