“Punishing defender and introspective poet: The two sides of Gonzaga LB Kyle Taylor”
AllMetSports – By Brandon Parker November 13
The Iowa commit also emcees poetry readings at Gonzaga. The burly teenager in the baby blue sweater grazed a hand over his curly, dark brown afro, nervously fidgeting at his desk near the front of the classroom. His teacher approached from the back, past the cookie trays and boxes of Capri Sun, past the student who was now clutching his paper at the ready.
“Every good poet deserves an introduction,” said Joseph Ross, an English teacher at Gonzaga and supervisor of after-school poetry slams. “So I give you our emcee, Kyle Taylor.”
Just a week earlier, Kyle Taylor was on national television. ESPN analysts were fawning over the Gonzaga star linebacker’s ability as he led the Eagles to an upset of nationally ranked rival DeMatha during a televised contest. The win helped catapult No. 3 Gonzaga (9-1) to the top seed in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinals, where it will face No. 20 Good Counsel on Saturday at Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.
But this forum was different, a spotlight that sought out snaps rather than sacks. The Kyle Taylor known to the 20 students and teachers gathered in the corner room on the I Street campus used his words to jar the minds of his audience, verses drawn from a passion to enlighten others amid the country’s recent racial climate.
Taylor stood before the assembled group and began reading an original poem entitled “Brother” that alternated the voices of a slave boy and a master’s son.
Everything that I did he did
Everything that he did I came along. . . .
Cracking jokes by the fields
Hiding my emotions as I watched my sister work. . . .
He was my Brother
About 15 minutes later, while waiting before football practice, Taylor wondered aloud what those in attendance drew from the poem. Did anger radiate from those 16 lines? Did they hear the slave boy’s voice? Did they hear him?
“We live in a city where there are all different types of people and races, but I think sometimes people are afraid to talk about race and that really frustrates me,” said Taylor, who is a consensus three-star Iowa football recruit. “Being a young, black kid, I may see things differently than some of my friends or classmates. But if we’re afraid to talk about race and educate each other, the problems will never get better.”
Kyle Taylor is a key cog on No. 3 Gonzaga’s dominant defense, and he’ll continue his career next fall at Iowa. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
During a time when the threat of college football players boycotting activities in response to racial tensions just led to the resignation of a university president, Taylor’s desire to spur positive change holds weight.
Taylor became aware of that reality about a year ago, when he decided to enter a speech contest at school. After soaking in racially charged events, like the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and witnessing his older brother, Miles, serve as the first emcee of Gonzaga’s poetry slams, Taylor began pouring his thoughts into a journal. Like football, Taylor viewed that space as his own, a place to block out the noise and channel his instincts into a work of art.
“I was really nervous going out in front of my whole grade because my poems are really personal and I didn’t know how people would react,” Taylor recalled. “In school, I was kind of quiet when it came to my opinions, so after I shared my experience, I think it kind of shocked people. Most of them didn’t know I felt that way.”
Up to that point, Taylor’s passion was most evident on the football field. Prior to his freshman and sophomore seasons, he endured grueling summer workouts with Miles in an effort to shed 30 pounds and mold himself into an explosive athlete. And when injuries to both of his knees threatened to derail his last two years on the field, Taylor threw his fervor into rehab. This fall, he has rounded back into form to produce 52 tackles, including three for loss, and one sack despite missing the season’s first three games.
“He has a mental toughness and a drive that’s unmatched,” said Miles Taylor, now a sophomore defensive back at Iowa.
As Taylor has come into his own, he has emerged as the Eagles’ inspirational leader on the field and in the locker room, a setting where he has no qualms with speaking his mind.
“If there’s a drill, you better be alert and you better have your mouthguard in or it’s going to be a wakeup when he hits you,” Eagles Coach Randy Trivers said. “A lot of people say they love football, but Kyle shows it in so many ways. He prepares a certain way and the intensity he has is genuine; it’s real.”
For those who know both sides of Taylor, that sincerity is what makes his words come to life. In his aim to provide a voice to the voiceless, he has attempted to delve into the mind of Charleston, S.C., mass shooter Dylann Roof as well as a privileged child raised by a minority nanny, stimulating thought in areas that many of his peers may have not considered.
“I don’t want to call it his softer side, because he’s definitely not that. But it’s cool to see his emotional side,” said fellow senior defender and poetry slam attendee Nick McEvoy. “I find it real interesting and it helps me see a different point of view. He pulls the best out of us as a leader in football, and I think he does that with his poems, too.”
Taylor holds court over a classroom full of Gonzaga students during a regular poetry slam that he emcees. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Two or three times a week, Taylor hones his craft during eighth period through an independent English study with Ross. As an extension of the American literature course he took last year, the two discuss the works of authors such as Langston Hughes and Frank Walker before poring over Taylor’s latest draft.
“The things that Kyle has a passion for, poetry seems to give him a way to voice those passions, from the injustices in America to football,” Ross said. “It’s not always pretty, but it’s positive and beautiful in a way that a poem can be beautiful and not pretty.”
Every weekend during the fall, Taylor wrestles with that dichotomy. That’s when he unleashes what Trivers jokingly calls “the dark side,” putting pieces of his own poetry into motion on the football field.
it was like this every time
these few milliseconds
He was free
no more mask
no more pretend
no more I want to be your friend
liberated to his own thought
Only clinging to life by those dreaded words