Auburn's towel-waving Taylor keeps things loose
When Trooper Taylor's around, you know it.
During Auburn games, he's the chest-bumping, towel-waving dynamo frequently shown on TV jubilantly celebrating with players on the sidelines. Around the football complex and practice fields, his booming voice carries from the lobby, through a glass wall and across a cavernous trophy-filled room ... to defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker.
''It sounds like him right now,'' the freshman said a few days before the top-ranked Tigers decamped for the national championship game against No. 2 Oregon. ''It's gotta be. Wow.''
Officially, Taylor is the Tigers' assistant head coach in charge of receivers and an ace recruiter. Unofficially, he's the players' big brother on campus, cheerleader and keep-it-loose guy. He's the one who had Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and assorted other players over to his home right before Christmas break. They made gingerbread houses.
Listen to his take on major college, big-business, pressurized football.
''I think football's a game,'' Taylor said, ''and I think a lot of people get confused and take the fun out of the game.''
Not Taylor. The first question he's asked during a lengthy interview is, ''How would you describe yourself?''
Thirteen minutes later, he gives a sheepish grin when it's pointed out to him how long he's been talking.
Like his mother always told him, ''I never met a word I didn't like.''
Or a person, for that matter.
The loquacious Taylor is one of 16 siblings, raised by their mother, Gloria, since his father died after a heart attack while walking from one job to the next when Trooper was 12 and at football practice.
He's the type of guy who on his first day of school as a freshman player at Baylor, walked into his speech class early, was asked by someone to let the other students know the professor would be late and instead mischievously instructed his classmates to stand up and talk about themselves.
''When the professor walked in, Trooper was the only one who hadn't given a speech,'' recalls Pat Blessing, Taylor's high school coach, who describes him as like ''my son.''
But he had fun. He usually does.
If intense coach Gene Chizik is the glue that holds it all together and cerebral coordinator Gus Malzahn is the offensive mastermind, then Taylor might just be the team's personality. He's certainly the only one of those three who can pull off the backward hat look on the sidelines.
Not many other coaches at big time programs have his chestbumping experience either, or a trademark towel.
The short, stocky Taylor does have some hard-learned chestbumping policies: Careful with the linemen and with the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton.
''I found out why linebackers don't like to tackle him,'' Taylor said. ''He hit me and my hat came off and my head phones went flying. But he didn't knock me down. I told that clown, 'You didn't get me on the ground and that's what's important.'''
He's kept a towel hanging off his belt since the seventh grade for celebratory purposes, and even got the fans revved up by running in front of the bleachers waving it during Auburn's NCAA regional baseball series last spring.
''Now, it's a way of getting the crowd and getting everybody involved,'' Taylor said. ''You'd be amazed at how they respond to it. When I wave that towel, that crowd goes absolutely crazy and then the players get into it. I've had so many people that send me e-mails saying, 'It's hard for me to watch the game because I'm watching you.'''
But it's not all about playing to the crowd, or even his receivers. He doesn't want players, offense or defense, dreading workouts and has his own routine.
Before practice, he and cornerback T'Sharvan Bell chant ''Uh oh'' back and forth as in ''Uh oh, it's practice time.'' He strolls through the defensive backs and linebacker groups asking, ''What's happening on the block?''
He even flips a piece of gum in the air for tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who catches it in his mouth. ''It's something silly, but it's fun to him,'' Taylor said. The routine also includes a hug and high-five from deep snapper Josh Harris.
''He brings a lot of energy,'' guard Byron Isom said. ''We'll be out there at practice one day and you can tell the vibe is down and people don't feel like practicing one day, you know you can count on him to bring the energy to practice.
''He does the same thing on the sidelines at the game. He never lets anybody get down. Sometimes we have to feed off him.''
Blessing, who coached him at Cuero (Texas) High School, said that's nothing new.
''All his teammates looked up to him,'' he said. ''He was the one that kept them together, that kind of took care of them.
''I've always said he'd be the first black president but he didn't make it. But I think Trooper will be a head coach at a major college someday.''
And Taylor makes no secret of that ambition, saying he peppers Chizik and his coach at Baylor, Grant Teaff, with questions about handling various situations and reads anything that might help prepare him.
It just goes with his frequent message to players, ''Everyday's an interview.'' When freshman linemen Whitaker and Nosa Eguae popped into his office for a visit during the season, he grilled them: What's the front-desk receptionist's name?
''Miss Brenda,'' they answered promptly.
Then there was the evening of gingerbread houses. Taylor happily flashes photos across his computer screen. There's wide receiver Emory Blake proudly displaying his elaborate, snow-covered endeavor. And freshman receiver Trovon Reed's somber construction with ''R.I.P. Mom,'' in honor of his mother, who died last March.
Newton had to make a do-over. His first version was a graham-cracker shack with a barbecued rib sticking out in the ''yard'' and didn't pass muster. The second was much more involved with his first name flanked by ''2'' and ''AU.''
''No football was talked there. None,'' Taylor said. ''Everybody's having a good time, cutting up, laughing. And these guys are making gingerbread houses.''