PANTHERS’ SMITH, BENGALS’
JOHNSON REUNITE WITH
They’re NFL star wide receivers, but when Steve Smith and Chad Johnson reunited recently with their beloved Santa Monica College coach Robert Taylor, it was to tell him how he had changed their lives.
If it hadn’t been for Taylor, they said, the pro ball players – who had grown up in tough neighborhoods and played together for SMC in 1997 – would be in jail or dead.
“It makes you feel real good, real proud,” said Taylor, who has coached SMC football for 20 years, 10 as head coach. “I knew how hard we had to work with them when they were here at SMC. The important thing is they’re successful.”
The Carolina Panthers’ Smith and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Johnson recently returned to SMC to reunite with Taylor and their former SMC Corsair teammates Eugene Sykes and Anthony Cephas. The reunion was bittersweet, however, because the fifth of the “Fab 5” wide receivers from SMC’s 1997 team was missing – he had died in a car crash the year before.
A television interview brought the men together on a recent April morning at Corsair Field on campus. The former Corsairs – who have remained close – answered an interviewer’s questions and talked about Taylor, their experience at SMC and their former Corsair teammate Demetrius Posey, who was killed in a car accident in San Diego in March 2003.
The reunion was organized by producer Jeff Cvitkovic, a producer with NFL Films, who noted that it was unusual that two of the NFL’s outstanding wide receivers played together at a community college.
“Junior college football has a way of getting lost in the mix, and there’s a lot of important stuff that gets done at this level – it’s where these players become men,” Cvitkovic said.
Cvitkovic taped the piece April 20 that will be aired this fall on ESPN’s Emmy Award-winning “NFL Films Presents.”
Taylor has kept in close touch with the men, even as their careers have skyrocketed. In fact, he recalled how Smith – on his way to the Super Bowl in January where he ended up scoring a touchdown – called Taylor just to ask his former coach how he was doing.
But what touched him most was the obvious impact
he has had on these men’s lives.
Indeed, Taylor recalls visiting the athletes’ homes, getting special help for his players who had academic problems, and – in the case of Johnson – calling his grandmother when Johnson needed to be reminded of his responsibilities.
“The best way to get to Chad was to call
his grandma,” Taylor said with a smile.
Taylor’s former protégés, all SMC graduates, have gone on to successful careers.
Smith, who scored a touchdown in the last minute of the first half of the Super Bowl against the Patriots this year, played Corsair football in 1997 and 1998 and transferred to the University of Utah, where he graduated in 1999. A second-draft choice for Carolina, he made his mark fast – as the only rookie elected to the 2001 Pro Bowl and as leader of the NFC, and second-ranked in the NFL, with a 25.6-yard kickoff return average in 2001.
Johnson, who transferred to SMC from Langston University in Oklahoma, grew up in Miami. After playing in 1997 and 1999 with SMC, he transferred to Oregon State and was drafted by the Bengals in 2001. He rose to the elite ranks of NFL receivers in 2003, leading the AFC with a Bengals-record 1,355 yards.
Sykes transferred from SMC to Abilene Christian University in Texas and played three years in the Arena Football League, with Fresno Frenzy. A Los Angeles resident, he plans to return to Abilene Christian this year to finish his bachelor’s degree.
Cephas went to Tennessee State after SMC, but knee injuries kept him sidelined. He is now a physical trainer in Los Angeles.
Posey was working as a veterinarian assistant in Los Angeles at the time he died.
Taylor, of West Los Angeles, has been on the
Corsair coaching staff since 1984 and was named head coach in 1994. Last
year he was named “Coach of the Year” by the Western States
Conference Southern Division. He has won more than half his games and,
since being named head coach, steered his team to three bowl games.
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