Courtney Taylor sat in the BC Lions’ dressing room earlier this week wearing a wide grin while holding one of his children on his lap. When the child began to cry Taylor planted a kiss on her cheek.
“People say ‘you are always walking around with a smile,’” Taylor said, speaking over the child’s cries. “I have bad days, but there’s not too much to be mad about.”
Taylor has a lot to make him happy these days.
The rangy slotback had seven catches for 69 yards in B.C.’s 41-5 annihilation of the Montreal Alouettes last weekend. He is one of three Lions among the CFL’s top-seven receivers with 18 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns and earlier in the season the native of Carrolton, Ala., signed a contract extension.
His talent is one of the reasons the Lions are riding a two-game win streak into Friday night’s match against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Things weren’t always this good though.
One of Taylor’s worst days came when he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating disease of the central nervous system that can affect a person’s hearing, vision, balance, and mobility while causing bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. Researchers are still looking for a cure.
The diagnosis came in 2008. In 2009 Taylor was waived by the NFL Seattle Seahawks and didn’t play football for two years. With his MS in remission, Taylor joined the Lions as a free agent in October 2011.
In 17 games last season he had 61 catches for 774 yards and five touchdowns.
Taylor has learned to live with his MS and believes the disease may have made him a better football player.
“I really think it did,” he said. “At the end of the day it made me cherish things a little bit more. It made me cherish football, it made me cherish my time with my family, my teammates.”
“I was at one point, where I thought it (football) was over. When BC gave me an opportunity . . . the only thing I can say is I will never have any regrets. I am going to go out and play every game, do everything thing I can do the fullest.”
The game against Montreal was a bounce-back for Taylor. Two weeks ago he had three catches for 34 yards and a touchdown in a 26-13 win over Saskatchewan, but also dropped two easy catches.
Against the Alouettes Taylor was sure-handed. Among his catches were three second-down grabs that kept drives alive. He also had an apparent touchdown called back when replays showed his elbow touched the turf before crossing the goal line.
“It felt good,” Taylor said. “You have to come back and you have to be able to recover.
“That’s one thing I did. I regrouped. I didn’t speak of a drop all week. Once you get confidence going you are going to be fine.”
At six-foot-one and 205 pounds, Taylor makes a big target for quarterback Kevin Glenn.
“He’s a guy that in traffic, you can get him the ball,” said Glenn. “When it’s tighter coverage you can still get it to him and he’s able to catch it, break tackles and get first downs.”
Taylor’s size masks deceptive speed.
“He’s a very smooth route runner,” said Glenn. “He gets open a lot because I think guys under estimate his speed and under estimate his quickness at getting open. He does a very good job of getting open and getting separation from guys. When you have a guy like that you don’t shy away from getting him the ball.”
Taylor said having teammates like Emmanuel Arceneaux helps his game. Arceneaux shredded Montreal with eight catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns, earning him the offensive player-of-the-week award.
“Taylor went to Auburn University and remains the Tigers’ all-time leader in catches. A sixth-round selection by the Seahawks in 2007, he had 14 catches for 136 yards and 10 special teams tackles in two NFL seasons.I need his speed on the field for a slower guy like me,” Taylor said with a grin. “It makes me look fast and I get open a lot.”
Now 30, Taylor believes he’s improving with age.
“I feel so smart nowadays,” he said. “I never felt like that before.”
“You know when to excel, when to take it off a little bit. I can pretty much tell what the defence is going to do before the snap of the ball. That comes with time. That comes with experience. To me, that slows the game down.”
The game around him may be slower but Taylor shows little sign of slowing down himself.
“He comes in every day with an energy to have fun and make the most of it,” said fifth-year slotback Shawn Gore, the Toronto native who played at Bishop’s.
“He wants to do well, he wants to succeed. He wants to perform. Whether a play goes bad or well, he wants to do it again. He wants to make up for the bad plays and continually make good plays.”
Because of his MS, Taylor believes his responsibilities as an athlete extend beyond the football field.
“At the end of the day it’s something that has made my life better,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand about the disease. I love to be a spokesman about it. I love to talk about it with kids that email, kids that come up to me saying they are going through the same thing, or parents of someone going through the same thing.”
“It was like a blessing in disguise for me.”
Taylor doesn’t see obstacles in his life, just challenges to be beaten. He talks proudly about how he improved his vertical leap by an inch over the winter.
“Being diagnosed with MS, it has really dialed me into my career,” he said.
“I feel like the sky is the limit. A lot of people think when you get to a certain age everything stops. It doesn’t stop. You get smarter. You get a little better at things.”