Before we get to today’s extremely important conversation with Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor – important for anyone connected with youth sports – I’m going to set the table with a personal story.
It’s a my-kid personal story, and I apologize, but I’ll move it along quickly.
So, my daughter’s a goalkeeper for a great local soccer team that went to a tournament in Washington D.C. and dominated teams from New York City and Philadelphia before losing each game 1-0 because of mistakes made by my daughter.
How’s that for quick?
But anyway, this was the hard part: the drive home.
She eventually came around, but I told one of my editors about it, just in conversation, and he said, “You should have her talk to Ike Taylor.”
It wasn’t that I needed her to talk to anyone, but we all know that bouncing back is Ike’s forte, and I was on my way to the locker room anyway, so my editor tossed that out there.
Ike, of course, would gladly help out anyone’s kid if asked, but I instead thought I could talk to him on behalf of all kids.
That’s how the keeper’s mistakes ballooned into this three-part story that hopefully informs as much as it entertains.
Part of the reason Ike Taylor was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week this week was that the Giants game was his 131st consecutive game played, the longest active streak of any NFL cornerback, a position at which you must be sleek, strong and of course healthy.
Q: Keeping in mind that kids are reading this, Ike, what’s your advice for staying on the field?
“Staying in shape, eating right, sleeping – going to sleep when your mom and dad tell you to, knowing that your mom and dad are always right”
Q: Nice touch. We parents appreciate that. But at what age did you figure this out?
“I didn’t have any other choice. My mom used to whup my butt if I stayed up too late or if I wasn’t in bed on time. Even if I didn’t go to sleep, just going to bed early, just lying down early, you can tell the difference in your body.”
Q: When did you start working out?
“I didn’t start lifting weights until college. I was a late-bloomer when it came to lifting weights, and I think that’s probably why I am the way I am today.”
Q: How has being a late-starter helped you stay on the field?
“No overdrive. Overdrive means you’re feeling burnt out at an early age in life. If you start lifting weights and exercising really hard early, you have to figure during the lifespan of your career – whether it’s high school, college or professional – you’re going to burn out at some point. I think because I didn’t lift weights early – well, I’m not still improving – but I’m staying the same, and I’m staying out there.”
Taylor intercepted his first pass of the season against the Giants, the 16th of a career – including postseason – that has covered 163 games. That’s one interception every 10.2 games. Ike’s boss, Dick LeBeau, intercepted a pass every 3 games.
Yes, Ike has dropped plenty of balls, and he’s spent plenty of time working on it with coaches, so he’s heard it all. So this one could be helpful.
Q: Ike, I’ve watched you practice over the years and you really do have good hands. But what happens in games? Do you tense up?
“No it’s about being focused.”
Q: Do you lack focus on the field?
“No. I mean you’ve got to be focused all the way with the ball. Sometimes I have a tendency to take my eye off the ball just a little bit while it’s in my hand. If you watch receivers, they look the ball all the way in and then they run in it. Look the ball all the way in.”
Q: It has nothing to do with tensing up?
“Nope. It’s all about focus, watching it in.”
This is the important one. This one’s about bouncing back, Ike Taylor’s specialty.
Only three weeks ago I watched Ike stand in the center of a mass of reporters who wanted to know about a couple of poor games on his part. But today he’s the AFC Defensive Player of the Week and the Steelers lead the NFL in pass defense. He knows about bouncing back.
Q: So, Ike, what’s the key to bouncing back?
“You’ve got to be immune. You’ve got to understand every day isn’t going to be the day you want it to be. You’ve got to understand you’re going to have good days; you’re going to have bad days. And regardless of what people say about you, you’re going to have to respond. Either you’re going to respond fast, or you’re going to respond slow, or you’re going to let people get to you. Only those with mental toughness survive. Everybody brings some kind of physical attribute to the table, but mental toughness is the difference.”
Q: You grew up in the Upper 9th Ward in New Orleans. When was the first time you felt like you were at the bottom of the world?
“That started when I was small, just growing up the way I grew up you had to have some kind of mental toughness. Where we grew up, everybody was tough and physical, so the only people who survived were the mentally tough people. Some people survive; some people don’t. Some people can get over the hump; some people don’t.”
Q: Does it mean not fighting back and just shrugging it off?
“You have to fight back, but you can fight back in different ways. It doesn’t have to be physical. It can be in other ways. You can fight back by proving people wrong. You can fight back in all kinds of ways. It doesn’t have to be physical at all.”
Q: Did you have those feelings this year?
“I have that feeling every year. I have that feeling every year and it starts with the draft when they’re trying to get a bigger, stronger, cheaper Ike Taylor. I’ve been through 11 of them. Since I’ve been here I’ve seen 11 corners. And I’m still here.”