Mom helped keep Beaufort's Taylor on right path to NFL

South Carolina defensive end ready to be drafted

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comApril 25, 2013 

Across the street from the gray three-bedroom mobile home on Lady's Island stretch views of Lucy Point Creek.

In the backyard, chains secure two dogs and a puppy scrambles up to greet visitors. A basketball goal with no rim stands watch over a gold Toyota Avalon, with a South Carolina Gamecocks front tag and Gamecocks stickers in the back window and each side of the back bumper.

Much of the yard is dirt. Out front on the black pavement of Little Capers Road is where Devin Taylor dribbled a basketball up and down the summer before his senior year at Beaufort High School.

Sylvia Cuyler didn't understand why until she watched her son on the Eagles basketball team that fall, watched the 6-foot-7 Taylor bringing the ball up the floor.

"He's had a mentality of always wanting to be the best at what he does," Cuyler said. "It doesn't matter if whoever on the team is better than him, he wants to be the best at what he can do."

Cuyler helped develop this work ethic. She didn't groom Taylor to become an NFL prospect, only nudged him into sports to keep him out of trouble, and he participated in everything through his senior year at Beaufort High.

Taylor, a former standout defensive end for the Eagles who played four years at South Carolina, will wait to hear his name called in the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday night. To his mother, he is still a son having fun playing a game, same as when he got in the car at the end of the first week of recreation league football and described to her positions and plays or when he rode his bicycle to Beaufort High football practice one morning after his mother had left for work.

In Cuyler's home, two of Taylor's No. 98 Gamecocks jerseys hang inside the front door. Framed pictures and signed posters dot the walls.

On top of the entertainment center are Taylor's game balls from the PapaJohns.com Bowl and South Carolina's 2010 victory at Florida, which clinched its SEC East title. On top of the silver Sony television are Taylor's game ball from senior day and one from his college debut at N.C. State on a Thursday night, a breakout performance for the redshirt freshman.

Cuyler wanted to go in person, wouldn't have missed it except that she could not find anyone to drive with her. And Raleigh, N.C., is a long drive alone in the Avalon.

She watched from her couch, the phone ringing with friends and family who saw Taylor force a fumble his first snap from scrimmage, block a punt and later force another fumble.

Cuyler had been terrified when she signed up 9-year-old Devin for youth football. He played for the St. Helena Panthers and coach Jerry Cohen, who unknowingly grouped Taylor with the 10- and 11-year-olds.

Taylor was taller than everyone else, but also skinny, and Cuyler thought he would be crushed. She told him he could continue playing soccer, his first love.

But by the end of the first week, Taylor schooled his mom on all he had learned. And he stayed in the older age group.

"Maybe that was a blessing," she said. "Because that challenged him to play with the bigger kids."

Only a couple of times did she say no to sports, pulling him briefly from the Beaufort High track team as a freshman when his grades slipped and denying Taylor when he came home his senior year with a baseball jersey. Too much going on, she said.

"She kept the clamp on Devin, you could tell," said Jerry Hatcher, who coached Taylor from seventh grade on, first at Lady's Island Middle and later as defensive line coach at Beaufort High. "It was yes ma'am, no ma'am. You could just tell he had total respect for Ms. Sylvia."

When college football coaches began calling, Cuyler directed them to her, screening each school and recruiter based on what they could promise about looking after her son and ensuring he stayed out of trouble. Gamecocks defensive line coach Brad Lawing, now at Florida after coaching Taylor five years, won her over.

Cuyler issued the same ultimatum to agents who solicited their services. She asked them their story, took notes and traveled to Columbia to meet with prospective agents, sometimes two or three in a day.

"Whenever I see a player say a parent is helping, I welcome that," said Taylor's agent, David Sullivan, who is based in Virginia. "It gives a player an opportunity to hear a second opinion and have sort of a double check ... as a second set of eyes and ears. And that's what (Cuyler) was."

Cuyler doesn't mention NFL money until asked. She told Taylor not to rush into the NFL Draft, that the family had made it this far and bills would continue to be paid.

She knows, depending on what round her son is drafted, the money could only be enough to get him out the door and started as a professional.

The issue came up once. One day last year, Taylor told his mother her house would soon be paid off.

"You just don't see this happening," Cuyler said. "I didn't see it happening to me or us. It's an awesome blessing that it is happening. And I'm accepting it and enjoying it."

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