- The Washington Times - Monday, August 24, 2009

The man who received a rare sixth year of eligibility knows his advanced years are completely in play in Maryland’s football locker room.

Pops. Old Man. Grandpa. Cornerback Richard Taylor has heard just about everything since he was granted an extra season after losing nearly all of the past two years to knee injuries.

“Yeah, he’s pretty old,” said safety Jamari McCollough, himself a fifth-year senior. “He’s about to turn, what, 25?”

Taylor isn’t quite halfway to securing his AARP card, but he will celebrate his 24th birthday in November. And he hopes he can do so as a contributor for the Terrapins after a helter-skelter career that has featured nearly as much rehabilitation as time on the field.

All while plugging away as a federal government employee.

“I have a job,” Taylor said last week while trying - unsuccessfully - to stifle his trademark mischievous cackle. “With benefits.”

A one-time teammate of Domonique Foxworth and Shawne Merriman who entered Maryland a semester early, Taylor earned a degree in communications in 2007 and wrapped up a master’s in real estate development in May.

His juggling act during the season will not be easy. He plans to commute four days a week to the Department of Transportation, where he was recently hired as a realty specialist. After a shift beginning at 6 a.m., he’ll rush to College Park for football practice and another slice of a bonus season he’s doing his best to savor.

“I have approached it in a different way,” Taylor said. “I think in past years I’ve had as much talent or more talent than maybe some of the guys who have played and gone on to other things. But I put so much pressure on myself that I wasn’t having any fun and I wasn’t playing to my top ability. You have to play loose.”

You also need to play healthy, which was Taylor’s primary impediment during what were supposed to be the prime years of his career. In April 2007, he tore the ACL in his left knee, setting off rehab that cost him a season.

He earned a role on special teams early last season, but in the third game he suffered an even more serious injury. The ACL, lateral collateral ligament and hamstring in his right leg were all torn, prompting more surgery.

As the Terps went on their roller coaster of a season, Taylor was occasionally seen in the team house. Usually when he hobbled through, he looked miserable, beat down by yet another setback and the need to continue grinding at his rigorous master’s program. When the season ended, he still couldn’t bend his right knee.

“They said I would never play again,” said Taylor, who is pursuing a master’s certificate in public health. “They said I could start to jog in 18 months after surgery. We’re 11 months after surgery and reacting. Certainly it’s been a miracle recovery from their end and from my end.”

There are times his body reminds him not to push things too much - such as the first day of camp when he hobbled out of practice with cramps. But Taylor still has a chance to close out his career on his terms. Nolan Carroll and Anthony Wiseman appear set to start at corner with Taylor a part of a logjam of options behind them.

“I would like for Richard - for Richard’s sake and for ours - to have some success on the football field,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Richard is really a want-to guy. He wants to do good. It’s not a question of effort. He struggles with some things at times. He’s a guy who, if he doesn’t make the two-deep and I can afford to keep him [on the travel roster], I will. Right now, he’s got to battle to make the two-deep.”

Regardless, he will be an invaluable source of perspective for the rest of a young roster. McCollough emphasized how Taylor, with his positive outlook, helped him endure some low moments during camp last year before he emerged as a vital utilityman in Maryland’s secondary.

Taylor’s combination of injuries and extensive education are another message he hopes will resonate with teammates. He has long yearned to become a crucial person in business, involved in deals and decisions both lucrative and successful, and knows the skills required to do that endure far longer than football.

“You’d better have a plan,” Taylor said. “You’d better be working something out. Even if you’re a manager trainee at CVS or Burger King, it’s a start. Maybe you get a franchise. And maybe you do this. And maybe you do that. But you don’t sit around and say ‘I didn’t make the league’ and be depressed for six to 12 months like I’ve seen in 75 percent of the cases, and that’s just out of here. It’s probably like that everywhere, at every D-1 school. Everybody does that. No. That’s unacceptable.”

So would be walking away without attempting to end his football career in a better way than limping to a locker room. Taylor is likely to play on several special teams units, as he did in his first few seasons. It would provide symmetry to his time in College Park, as well as a sense of fulfillment.

And that’s important at any age.

“It wasn’t what I wanted, and I never would have said that I wanted this to be the way it was,” Taylor said. “But looking back on it, I wouldn’t change anything. … In the end, that will be more of a valuable experience than going to the league, knowing I can make it through anything, any type of personal tragedy. To get through it is priceless.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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