At seven, Carlif Taylor lost his father, a bus driver for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to an apparent carjacker. Growing up in Harlem, the same sound of gunshots filled the night.
The notion of Taylor playing football in college, let alone the pros, appeared far-fetched. He never stepped onto the gridiron until his senior year in high school. After this late start to his career, a pair of lost SATs landed him in Division II. Following the draft, Taylor waited two long days to get the call he’d been waiting for.
In those 48 hours, Taylor, who had overcome much, wondered if he could navigate this final obstacle.
“I thought that if you didn’t get called after the draft immediately, it was pretty much over,” Carlif Taylor told Breitbart Sports. “But, when I put in the work and look back, there was literally nothing more I could have done. I literally sacrificed everything, just focused on school and football to get here. So I was kind of distraught and confused about what was the missing element for me.”
As his agents preached patience, the big man envisioned himself in blue. “I was just telling them,” Taylor recalled. “I want to be on the Giants. I was like, try to get me on the Giants.”
A night after dreaming it, the football gods granted his wish.
“You just want someone to believe in you and to trust in you,” he confessed to Breitbart Sports. “Being that the Giants did that, I’m forever loyal to them and will be forever grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”
Why the New York Giants?
“I follow players more than I follow teams,” Taylor explains. “But I was always a Giants fan. Growing up, my brother was a Jets fan and it was just a sibling rivalry.”
As far as players, Taylor followed a legendary defensive tackle, an inspirational character who faced comparable obstacles.
“I am really fond of John Randle because we share a similar story,” Taylor says of the former Viking. “He is a Hall of Famer and one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He was undrafted, a tryout guy just like me. His chances were slim to none. We resemble each other and I want to mold my game similar to his.”
Given his unusual introduction to the sport, Taylor’s story is truly unique. In fact, he didn’t even pick up a pigskin until his final year of high school.
“It was my high school coach, C.J. O’Neil,” Taylor says of who motivated him to finally don pads. “At the time he always wanted me to play and tryout for the team. He saw great potential in me, to the point where he had a meeting with me, my mother, and himself, and basically told us that I had a chance to get a college scholarship. Once my mom heard that, she told me to try it for a year, and if it works, it works.”
Taylor proceeded to enjoy a monster season, drawing interest from schools such as Rutgers and Princeton. Frustrated by the two lost SATs, he winged his third attempt, putting himself out of D1 contention. He settled on Southern Connecticut State University. Despite initially lowering his stock, Taylor doesn’t believe that Division II put him too far behind.
“The only thing that a D1 school does for you is get you more marketability and publicity,” he maintains. “So, you are scouted more and you are known more. But true talent will always be found and your road is going to be harder but, statistically proven, those that come from rougher roads last longer in this league.”
Besides his humble upbringing, Taylor credits his childhood passion, dancing, for his football success. “I would call it a new era of breakdancing called Lite Feet, that started in NYC, probably around ’06,” he explains. “That was something I loved to do before I was even playing football. That was my first passion, but at the same time, [it] helped me translate to football because my feet just move so light from the dancing.” His highlights display a high motor and ball tracking skills, exhibiting the “Lite Feet” noticed by NFL scouts.
Several veterans have taken the dancing 300-plus-pounder under their wing, including Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who provided invaluable advice: “Don’t let a bad play be a bad day!” It quickly became Taylor’s motto.
While some veterans provide guidance, others provide laughs. “Eli [Manning] is a jokester man. He’s a real quiet guy, but at the same time he’s one of those guys that does something that’s just so hilarious, that’s just like ‘Wow.’ He’s so unpredictable.”
Taylor excels by letting neither his close encounters with the rich and famous get to his head nor his mistakes get him down.
“I’m hard on myself and being undrafted, you have to be,” Taylor divulges. “Let’s say I was a [wide receiver.] A first rounder can drop that ball, but you can’t drop that ball. The investment they put in you is minimal compared to somebody that is drafted. Any time I might be out of line, out of my route, or out of my gap, I’m usually hard on myself because I know that I have little room for error. But, at the same time, it’s just one play. You have to have a short memory.”
Fully entrenched in the NFL life, Taylor shares the moment he was welcomed to the league. “The coaches and the players started calling me by my nickname,” he explains. “That made me feel like ‘Wow. I’m really here.’”
An inspiration to his neighborhood and to fellow Division II athletes, “Leaf” serves as a model of perseverance.
“They tell me I motivate them to do what they want to do and follow their dreams because we all grew up together and came from the same circumstances. And just to see me make it, they are happy for me and it is motivation for them, they live vicariously through me.”
The defensive tackle recorded a sack in his first preseason game in Cincinnati, further impressing his coaches. It’s less than ten miles as the crow flies from Harlem to MetLife Stadium. Carlif Taylor’s journey proved more circuitous than that.