Sean Taylor

Born:  April 1, 1983

Birthplace:  Florida City, FL
Died:  November 28, 2007

Place of Death:  Miami, FL

Zodiac Sign:  Aries

Sean Michael Maurice Taylor (April 1, 1983 – November 27, 2007) was an American football free safety for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the Redskins with the fifth overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft where he played for four seasons until his death in 2007.

As a high school player, Taylor led Gulliver Prep to a Florida state championship and rushed for a state record 44 touchdowns in a season. He subsequently played college football as a defensive back for the University of Miami, where he was a member of the Hurricanes' 2001 BCS National Championship team, and earned unanimous All-American honors.

Taylor's success in college led to him being selected in the first round of the 2004 draft by the Redskins where he gained a reputation as a hard-hitting player. Due to his ferocious hits, several of his Redskins teammates nicknamed him "Meast", from the expression "half man, half beast." He made one Pro Bowl appearance in 2006.

During the 2007 NFL season, Taylor was shot by intruders at his Miami area home and died 10 days later on November 27. His death led to an outpouring of national support and sympathy, especially in the Washington, D.C. area, where Taylor had been a fan favorite as a Redskin, and the Miami area, where he had starred in high school and college. Posthumously, he earned a second Pro Bowl selection and First Team All-Pro honors.

Early Life

Sean Taylor was born in Florida to Pete Taylor, a policeman, and Donna Junor. He spent his early years growing up with his great-grandmother Aulga Clarke in Homestead, Florida and later moved to his father's home at the age of 11. He grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Miami, on a street lined with candy-colored houses.

Taylor played high school football in Pinecrest, a suburb of Miami. He originally began his high school football career at Miami Killian High School, a Class 2A public school, but transferred to Gulliver Preparatory School, a Class prep school, where he was a three-sport star in football, track and basketball. He played both offense and defense. Despite missing the first game of the season (the team's only loss), he helped Gulliver win the Florida Class 2A State Championship in 2000 with a 14–1 record. Taylor was a star on both sides of the ball during that season, playing running back, defensive back and linebacker. He rushed for 1,400 yards and a state-record 44 touchdowns and on two separate occasions, rushed for more than 200 yards during Gulliver’s state playoff run. He also compiled more than 100 tackles during the season and scored three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) in the state title game victory over Marianna High School. In track & field, Taylor won the state 2A 100-meter dash in 2000 and was also one of the state's top 400-meter dash sprinters. At Gulliver, Taylor was a teammate of future NFL player Buck Ortega. His championship HS team was coached by Steve Howey, Ralph Ortega, Dirk Moran, Lee Horn, Dave Burns, and John McCloskey.

Taylor was considered the No. 1 prospect in Miami-Dade County by the Miami Herald. He was also rated the nation's No. 1 skill athlete and an All-American by Super Prep. Taylor was also an Orlando Sentinel Super Southern Team selection, the No. 1 athlete on the Florida Times-Union Super 75 list and rated the No. 1 player in Florida by The Gainesville Sun.

In 2007, he was also named to the Florida High School Association All-Century Team, which selected the Top 33 players in the 100-year history of high school football in the state. After his death, Taylor was honored at Gulliver by a plaque that was placed in the school's cafeteria. The football field at Gulliver Prep was renamed Sean Taylor Memorial Field on September 5, 2009.

College Career

Taylor was recruited to play for coach Larry Coker's Miami Hurricanes football team at the University of Miami. He was also a member of the Hurricanes track & field team, competing in events such as the 100-meter and 200-meters.

2001 Season

As a freshman (one of four true freshmen to play for the team), Taylor carved a niche for himself in Miami's secondary in nickel and dime defensive schemes. During the season, Taylor was named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Hurricanes won the national championship in 2001.

2002 Season

In 2002, his first season as a starter, Taylor was a second-team All-Big East selection by the league's head coaches. He finished third on the team in tackles with 85 (53 solo), broke up 15 passes, intercepted 4 passes, forced one fumble, blocked one kick and returned a punt for a touchdown. He led all Miami defensive backs in tackles, interceptions and passes broken up, and had a career-high 11 tackles (2 solo) and intercepted 2 passes in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. He made a critical play during the game, in which he intercepted Buckeyes quarterback Craig Krenzel in the endzone and returned the ball out of the endzone. Buckeyes running back Maurice Clarett ran Taylor down, and in the process stripped the ball away from him. Clarett recovered the ball for Ohio State, allowing them to kick a field goal to go up 17-7 at the time. This fumble was one of Miami's 5 turnovers and was viewed as critical in the Hurricanes 31-24 double overtime loss.

2003 Season

Taylor produced a historic season during his final year at Miami that culminated with a plethora of honors and awards. He was named a unanimous first-team All-American, the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back. He led the Big East Conference and ranked first nationally in interceptions with 10, tying the record for interceptions in a season with former Hurricanes standout Bennie Blades. Taylor also finished first in total tackles with 77 (57 solo). He intercepted two passes in Miami's impressive 28-14 win over Pittsburgh, playing a key role as the Hurricanes limited All-American receiver Larry Fitzgerald to just three receptions for 26 yards. He returned interceptions for an average of 18.4 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown return at Boston College, a 50-yard scoring runback at Florida State and a 44-yard scoring runback against Rutgers University. His three touchdown returns of interceptions is a Miami single-season record.

Taylor also competed in track & field as a senior for the Hurricanes. He placed 4th in the 100-meter at the Gatorade Invitational in Coral Gables, Florida with a time of 10.77 seconds, behind teammates Terrell Walden, Roscoe Parrish and Travarous Bain. His best efforts for the season came at the Big East Outdoor T&F Championships in Storrs, Connecticut, where he ran personal-bests of 10.74 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 21.60 seconds in the 200-meter dash. He also participated as a member of the 4x100 relay.

Professional Career

Following his 2003 season, Taylor announced that he was entering the NFL draft. He attended the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, but opted to skip all of the combine drills and only met with team representatives and personnel.

Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins selected Taylor in the first round (fifth overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft. He was the first of a record six players selected in the first round from the University of Miami, (the other five players were Kellen Winslow II, Jonathan Vilma, D. J. Williams, Vernon Carey and Vince Wilfork).

2004

On July 27, 2004, the Washington Redskins signed Taylor to a six-year, $18.5 million contract that includes a $13.4 million signing bonus and can be worth $40 million with incentives and bonuses. His contract also included a seventh-year option. Taylor became the first top ten pick to sign his contract in 2004.

On August 4 , 2004, it was reported that Taylor fired his agents Eugene Mato and Jeff Moorad after he became unsatisfied with his contract. He fired them after other top ten picks signed their contracts and felt their deals were better in comparison. This marked his second time firing agents within five months after he fired agent Drew Rosenhaus two days after the NFL draft. He immediately rehired Rosenhaus, served as his agent for the remainder of his career. Taylor also had an incident that involved his early departure during the NFL's Rookie Symposium which was mandatory for every incoming player from the draft and was held over four days. He left after the first day, but returned for the last two days at the urgence of representatives from the Redskins. Over his first three seasons, Taylor also was fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other infractions.

Throughout training camp, Taylor competed for the job as the starting free safety against Andre Lott. On August 9, 2004, Taylor made his professional NFL debut in the Redskins' preseason-opener as part of their second unit defense against the Denver Broncos. He recorded two interceptions in the second half off passes by rookie quarterback Matt Mauck. During the third quarter, Taylor intercepted a pass intended for Jeb Putzier and returned it for a three-yard touchdown to put Washington in the lead 10–9. Head coach Joe Gibbs named Taylor the backup free safety to begin the regular season, behind starter Andre Lott, after Taylor failed to surpass him on the depth chart.

He made his professional regular season debut in the Washington Redskins' season-opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and assisted on one tackle in their 16–10 victory. In Week 3, Taylor earned his first career start after surpassing Lott on the depth chart and recorded four combined tackles and deflected two passes in the Redskins' 21–18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. On October 18, 2004, Taylor made four solo tackles, a pass deflection, a sack, and returned his first career interception for 45-yards during a 13–10 win at the Chicago Bears. He made his first career interception and sack during the game, recording both on quarterback Brian Griese. In Week 12, he collected a season-high ten combined tackles (seven solo) and broke up a pass in a 16–7 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers. He finished his rookie season in 2004 with 76 combined tackles (60 solo), nine pass deflections, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a sack in 15 games and 13 starts.

2005

Before the season started, Taylor switched his jersey number from No. 36 to No. 21 after it was available due to the departure of cornerback Fred Smoot to the Minnesota Vikings. Taylor kept the number when Smoot rejoined the Redskins in 2007, with Smoot opting to wear No. 27. Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Gregg Williams opted to retain Taylor as the starting free safety to begin the regular season, alongside strong safety Ryan Clark.

He started the Washington Redskins' season-opener against the Chicago Bears and recorded four solo tackles and broke up a pass in their 9-7 victory. On November 11, 2005, it was reported that Taylor and teammate Clinton Portis received fines from the NFL due to violating the league's uniform code during the Redskins' 17-10 home victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9. Taylor's fine was for $5,000 due to his choice of wearing white socks with a burgundy and gold striped pattern instead of the required all white socks. He was inactive for the Redskins' Week 10 loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to an injury. On January 1, 2006, he collected a season-high nine combined tackles and deflected two passes during a 31-20 win at the Philadelphia Eagles. Taylor finished the 2005 season with 70 combined tackles (60 solo), a career-high ten pass deflections, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a sack in 15 games and 15 starts.

The Washington Redskins finished second in the NFC East with a 10-6 record and received a wildcard berth. On January 7, 2006, Taylor started in his first career playoff game and recorded seven combined tackles and returned a fumble recovery for a 51-yard touchdown in the first quarter of their 17-10 victory at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Referee Mike Carey ejected Taylor in the third quarter after he spit in Buccaneers' running back Michael Pittman's face. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams stated Taylor denied the claim and he believed and stood by his player. During his rookie season, he allegedly spit in the face of wide receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh, but was not reprehended due to the NFL being unable to recover clear video evidence. Two days later, the NFL fined Taylor $17,000 for the incident. The Redskins were eliminated the following game after losing 20-10 to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Round. Taylor finished the loss with seven combined tackles and a pass deflection.

2006

Head coach Joe Gibbs named Taylor the starting free safety to start the regular season in 2006, along with starting strong safety Adam Archuleta.

On October 15, 2006, Taylor collected a season-high ten combined tackles (eight solo) and deflected a pass during a 25-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans. In Week 9, Taylor made eight combined tackles and returned a blocked 35-yard field goal attempt by Mike Vanderjagt for a 30-yard gain with less than six seconds left in the game. A facemask on Taylor by Kyle Kosier added a 15-yard penalty and placed the Redskins in field goal range with an untimed down. Vanderjagt's game-winning field goal was blocked by Troy Vincent and allowed Redskins' kicker Nick Novak to kick a 47-yard game-winning field goal to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 22-19. On November 26, 2006, Taylor recorded five combined tackles, two pass deflections, and intercepted a pass by quarterback Jake Delhomme in the Redskins' 17-13 win against the Carolina Panthers. He made a key fourth down tackle on Jake Delhomme in the fourth quarter and his interception sealed the Redskins' victory. He was voted as the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance. He finished the 2006 season with a career-high 111 combined tackles (86 solo), six pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and an interception in 16 games and 16 starts. During the season, Washington Redskins assistant coach Gregg Williams frequently called Taylor the best athlete that he had ever coached.

Even while playing on a struggling Redskins defensive unit, Taylor's impact on the field was recognized when he was named a first alternate to the NFC's 2007 Pro Bowl team. When the NFC's first choice for safety, Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles, chose not to play in the Pro Bowl due to an injury, Taylor was named to the vacated spot, marking his first and only Pro Bowl appearance. A crushing hit by Taylor on Buffalo Bills punter Brian Moorman in the Pro Bowl created much fan and media discussion.

2007

Prior to the start of the 2007 season, Sports Illustrated named Taylor the hardest-hitting player in the NFL.

Before the season, in a rare interview, he was quoted as saying, "[Y]ou play a kid's game for a king's ransom. And if you don't take it serious enough, eventually one day you're going to say, 'Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.'" The season appeared to represent a personal turnaround for Taylor, as teammates said that he had finally gotten his life straightened out because of his daughter.

Also before the season, the Redskins decided to use Taylor in a more traditional free safety role with less responsibility.

At the time of his death, Taylor was tied for the most interceptions in the National Football Conference and second in the league with 5 despite having missed Weeks 11 and 12 with a knee injury. Playing at a high level, Taylor had also compiled 42 tackles, 9 passes defended and a forced fumble.

On December 18, 2007, Taylor was posthumously voted to his second Pro Bowl, becoming the first deceased player in NFL history to be elected to the Pro Bowl. During the Pro Bowl, Chris Samuels, Chris Cooley and Ethan Albright wore Taylor's #21 jersey to honor him. Like the Redskins had done earlier in the season, the NFC lined up with just one safety on the first play of the game.

Legal Issues

Following Taylor's early departure from the University of Miami and his drafting by the Redskins, a number of criminal troubles plagued Taylor's NFL career.

In October 2004, Taylor was arrested in Fairfax County, Virginia on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol following a birthday party in Washington, D.C. for former Redskins receiver Rod Gardner. Pulled over for driving 82 mph on the Beltway, where the speed limit is 55 mph, Taylor failed a field sobriety test and then refused a blood alcohol (BAC) test, which resulted in his arrest. A Fairfax County judge acquitted Taylor of the charges in March 2005 after viewing a videotape of Taylor's roadside sobriety tests that, according to the judge, failed to demonstrate obvious intoxication. Taylor was, however, convicted for refusing to take a blood alcohol test requested by a Virginia state police officer. But when this case was heard on appeal in March 2005, Taylor was acquitted of refusing to take the BAC test, with the judge ruling there was a lack of probable cause for the request.

Taylor was sought by police following a June 2005 incident in which bullets were fired into a stolen vehicle. During an April 2006 trial, Taylor pled no contest to misdemeanor battery and assault charges; he was placed on 18 months probation and ordered to support ten Miami-Dade County schools by speaking about the importance of education and donating $1,000 to each school.

Death

On November 17, 2007, burglars pried open a window to Taylor's empty home and rifled through a desk and safe. On November 26 at 1:45 a.m., Taylor was shot in the upper leg by an intruder. His longtime girlfriend Jackie García (a niece of actor Andy García) and their 18-month-old daughter Jackie were not injured. Taylor had extensive blood loss through a severed femoral artery and he died on November 27.

On November 30, four men – Venjah K. Hunte, 20; Eric Rivera, Jr., 17; Jason Scott Mitchell, 19; and Charles Kendrick Lee Wardlow, 18 – were arrested. Police said more than one confessed. All four men were charged with felony second-degree murder, armed burglary and home invasion robbery with a firearm, charges which carried a maximum of life in prison. In May 2008, a fifth suspect, 16-year-old Timothy Brown, was charged with first-degree murder and burglary. All the murder charges were subsequently increased to first-degree murder. The death penalty, however, was not sought because the gunman, Rivera, was 17 years old.

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