The path to a CFL career isn't an easy one under the best of circumstances. As we've seen through programs like Hail Mary, there are hundreds to thousands of players who'd love to crack this league, but never get a chance. For B.C. Lions' receiver Courtney Taylor, though, the odds were even steeper. In 2009, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which can affect everything from balance to coordination, crucial to players' athletic success. Treatment can help control the symptoms, but there is no known cure. Here's what Taylor told Katie Lawrence earlier this year about how he first learned he had the disease:
"I noticed in pre-camp workouts [in June 2009 with the Seattle Seahawks] that I had a little eye twitch. I didn't think too much of it, I just didn't know what was going on," said Taylor. "One day in practice, I beat my guy clean and I'm running down the field for an easy touchdown. I still had the eye twitch, which was to my right, and I just couldn't track the ball. It literally hit me in the top of the helmet."
After that, Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren approached Taylor, saying that he had noticed something was wrong over the past week or so. The wide receiver was honest and told his coach that he couldn't really see out of his right eye. That's when the testing began.
Two weeks later, Taylor was informed that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects how the nerves in the brain and spinal cord interact with each other.
"I can remember the first time that I heard it. I'm a grown man and it almost brought me to tears and I didn't even know what it was," Taylor said. "You hear something like that, and you don't know what it is, it scares you."
Taylor was cut by the Seahawks in 2010 and spent most of the next two years out of football, but fought hard to make a comeback and was added to the Lions' practice roster in October 2011. He could make his regular-season CFL debut Saturday against Calgary at wide receiver thanks to an injury to Arland Bruce (and also one to slotback Geroy Simon). Here's what B.C. head coach Mike Benevides told The Vancouver Sun's Cam Tucker about Taylor:
"What I've seen in (Taylor) is a guy with tremendous enthusiasm, he's got tremendous speed, he's got great body control and he's got size," said Benevides.
"Someone asked me why that position. Well, his skill set and his playmaking ability is very similar to Arland's and the position he plays. So what I see is a guy with tremendous amount of ability that is going to have an opportunity."
Taylor, who played his college football at Auburn, battled through an amazing amount just to get here. The symptoms of MS add extra challenges to what's already a tough profession to crack, and this hasn't been an easy road for him. As he told Tucker, though, disease is difficult to handle, but he doesn't let himself get discouraged.
"It is, but at the same time, it's life," said Taylor. "I'm not one of the guys that gets down, like … why's this happening to me? I just look at it as a stepping stone. It's another stepping stone, another obstacle that I had to go through in my life, and football taught me that."
Perhaps it's that attitude of perseverance that's enabled Taylor to stick with the Lions despite their deep receiving corps and his lack of playing time. Many in his position would get frustrated, and some would even give up and quit. Taylor's experience battling something far more frightening than just an imposing depth chart may help make the day-to-day grind of trying to make a CFL team's active roster seem insignificant by comparison. Whatever it is that's motivated him so far, it looks like it's about to pay off. We'll see if the 28-year-old Taylor's ever able to make a CFL impact; he certainly has potential, but the Lions have so many talented receivers that he'll have to do something memorable to keep playing after the injuries to Bruce and Simon subside. Making it this far's a huge accomplishment regardless of what happens next, though, and Taylor's inspiring story should provide hope to MS sufferers everywhere. Few would have figured a guy diagnosed with MS would be able to do this, but he's about to prove the doubters wrong.
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- Courtney Taylor