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New York Giants Safety Cooper Taylor Overcomes Rare Heart Condition to Pursue His Passion

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New York Giants fifth-round draft pick Cooper Taylor, a safety, knew something wasn't quite right when as a sophomore at Georgia Tech, his heartbeat suddenly accelerated to abnormal levels.

"I was starting (in a game), and had a racing heart enough to the point where I had to pull myself out," he recalled in between practices on the first day of the Giants three-day rookie minicamp. "The doctors pulled me out. They put me under EKG at the stadium there in Miami and they identified it as Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome."

According to the Mayo Clinic, WPW is "the presence of an extra, abnormal electrical pathway in the heart that leads to periods of a very fast heartbeat (tachycardia)." The extra pathway typically develops at birth, and symptoms of the condition usually don't show up in people until their early twenties.

While the rapid heartbeats themselves are not considered life-threatening, if left untreated, WPW can lead to more serious heart problems.

Thanks to the outstanding medical care he received from an Atlanta, Ga. hospital, Taylor, who at just 19 years of age feared that his budding football career was over before it had a chance to take off, was soon back on the gridiron.

"As a 19-year-old kid playing college football, that is your life," he said. "I thought football was taken away from me when it was going on. I really thought if you have a heart condition my career would be done."

When Taylor met with NFL teams prior to the draft, he brought with him a thick stack of paperwork from his doctors in order to convince prospective NFL employers that his heart condition was indeed a thing of the past.

The Giants fell in love with Taylor's unusual height which he brings to the position, a stature Taylor said sometimes make people think he's either a quarterback or tight end when they first learn he's a football player.

"When I tell people I'm a safety, I usually get a second look," he said with a chuckle. "I'm definitely an enigma for the position, but hopefully that plays into my advantage."

In the first day of the Giants' rookie minicamp, the 6-4, 228-lb. Taylor's performance was hard not to notice. He did a nice job of keeping his eye on the quarterback, even when dropping into coverage, and didn't make his break until he knew for sure what direction the ball was headed.

He also used his speed to close in on the receiver, either knocking the ball away or limiting the yards after the catch.

Taylor was just as noticeable against the run, quickly closing in on the ball carrier while all the while not tipping his hand as to what his intentions were, all the while taking to the Giants defense as though he had played it his entire life.

"(Defensive coordinator Perry) Fewell is a great coordinator," said Taylor, who hopes to earn a spot in Fewell's three-safety package this year. "He does a lot of things with different personnel and I feel like with their three-safety look they've run in the past I feel like I can help in that."

Taylor believes that his height will allow him to better match up against the larger receivers and tight ends that offenses are deploying in the passing game.

"With the way the league is going in terms of having as many tight ends as there are, and with as good as the offenses are, I think there's a spot for a little bit bigger safeties. So hopefully, I'll be able to fill that role."

Despite his optimism, Taylor knows that nothing is about to be handed to him at this level, reminding people that he was not an automatic to replace former Giants safety Kenny Phillips, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an unrestricted free agent earlier this offseason.

"I'm just right now trying to pick up as much information as I possibly can and do my best to do what (defensive backs) Coach (David) Merritt and Coach Fewell want me to do, and then find a spot where I can make an impact," Taylor said.

Whether that spot is on defense, on special teams, or both, Taylor recognizes that his fate is in his hands and that if he takes his job seriously these next few months and executes the techniques desired by the Giants;' coaching staff, he'll make an impact.

If he does make the desired impact, look no further than the second chance at football he received after a scary episode with his health.

"If you can get a second chance at football, it really kind of inspired me and renewed my passion for the game to kind of get something taken away and then get it back," he said. "If you're making an impact," he said with a smile, "you're probably going to make the team."

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic

Patricia Traina is a New Jersey-based, accredited sportswriter who covers the New York Giants for Inside Football and the Sports Xchange. She is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow her on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.

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