Michigan tailback Billy Taylor had seemingly turned the corner to greatness when he finished his football career at the University of Michigan in 1971. He had been named to the All-American Team for the third consecutive season and he had earned distinction as the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player. He was leaving Michigan as the leading rusher in the school’s history. He was a powerful, compact runner with enough speed to bounce outside. It appeared that he had a bright future in the National Football League. He expected that someday he would earn enough money to buy his mother all of the comforts of life that she had never been able to afford. And with a Michigan degree in his hand and a firm faith in God, Taylor had plans well beyond his football career. Dr. Martin Luther King had inspired Taylor when he was younger and, at age 22, Taylor was already pondering the pursuit of a doctorate degree. He wanted to be Dr. William Taylor.
But a few days after Taylor played his last game for the Maize and Blue in the 1972 Rose Bowl, his mother died unexpectedly. It would be the first of four tragedies in Taylor’s life that pushed him into an emotional tailspin and would alter the course of his future. Instead of finding fame in the professional game, Taylor discovered depression, alcohol and drugs.
Get Back Up: The Billy Taylor Story is the saga of one man’s battle to use the perseverance he learned on the football field to twice regain control of his life. As a young man, Taylor had prided himself on being able to rise to his feet no matter how hard he had been drilled by a defender. He embraced that style after watching Jim Brown perform for the Cleveland Browns. Taylor had learned that each time he was knocked down in football and in his life, he needed to force himself to get back up. It wasn’t always easy to accomplish.
By age 26, he was a convicted felon, but he was able to get back up after serving 21/2 years in the penitentiary. While in prison, he defied all odds by earning his Master’s Degree. When he was released from prison, he found a job as an executive. He met a wonderful woman and married. He soon had a family. His life seemed to have a new direction. But he lost his job in a company downsizing in 1980, and drugs and alcohol addiction took over. By the1990’s, he was a street person, an addict, living among the homeless in Detroit. He supported his lifestyle with odd jobs and he was frequently in trouble with the police. At one point, he went almost two years without seeing his children.
On August 17, 1997, Taylor was polishing off a fifth of vodka on the steps of a vacant building at five in the morning when God spoke to him and guided him toward a new life. By that afternoon, he had a new friend willing to help him, a place to live and a real job. Taylor believes that a miracle resuscitated his life on that summer day. Within two years, he went from a man who would sell his food stamps for beer and drug money, to being a teacher at the Community College of Southern Nevada. Within six years, he had earned the title of Dr. William Taylor, thanks to an Ed. D in Educational Leadership earned at the University of Nevada--Las Vegas. He walked across the stage to receive his diploma 25 years after he had earned his Master’s Degree. He broke down for just a moment on stage--and for good reason. He felt he had been to Hell and back. Few people in history have risen from such difficult circumstances to achieve a Doctorate and in such a short period of time. He remembers working all-day and studying all-night, often falling asleep at his kitchen table with his head in his books. The Ed. D. was the second miracle in his life.