By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Robert Taylor Jr. never thought about someday possibly being inducted to the Grambling State University Hall of Fame.
In his college football playing days with the Tigers, the A.H. Parker High School product was focused on leading the Grambling football team to successes that included back-to-back Black College National Championships in 2000 and 2001.
“(The school’s Hall of Fame) had just been established in 2009,” Taylor recalled. “I heard about it being established but I didn’t think I was gonna be nominated for that.”
Taylor never thought about being included in the storied Hall of Fame of Grambling athletics, until he got the call from Doug Williams, the legendary quarterback who would become his college head football.
“Coach Williams, Doug Williams, called me, gave me the call,” Taylor recalled. “At first, I couldn’t believe it. I cried. I started thinking about my mom. My mom (Wilma Taylor) passed away 15 years ago. It was just emotional because you want to be remembered. I knew I was good but this is crazy.”
Taylor was overcome with emotion, thanking Williams four or five times.
“He told me, ‘Don’t thank (me). You earned it,’” the former middle linebacker said. “It was very nice. I was on Eddie Robinson’s last recruiting class in 1998. That’s when Coach Williams took over. That was my first year.”
Robinson is recognized by many college football experts as one of the greatest coaches of all time, retiring in 1997 with a record of 408 wins, 165 losses and 15 ties.
The defensive coordinator at his alma mater Parker High, Taylor was one of 11 athletes who was inducted into the Grambling State University Sports Legends Hall of Fame in July. He was a back-to-back first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) first-team selection in 2000 and 2001 and earned All-America honors as a senior.
Parker head coach Frank Warren also played collegiately at Grambling, although he didn’t get there until 2007.
“He was a little older. His time was ’98 to 2001 so I heard a lot about him, about how he was, the type player he was as a linebacker,” Warren said. “He was one of the meanest linebackers. He was made from that old-school cloth, hard and hard-nosed and just tough. That’s how he approached it.”
Warren said Taylor is committed to his schools – Parker and Grambling. “That’s all he knows,” the head coach said. “He’s a Parker guy through and through. He’s the meaning of Parker.”
Coincidentally, Taylor was an assistant coach at Parker when Warren was a running back at rival Pleasant Grove High School.
“I was happy to see him go to Grambling,” Taylor said, predicting that Warren will likely be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. “He’s the leading rusher at Grambling. You can’t deny him.”
Taylor had an impressive first season at Grambling but an academic misstep cost him his sophomore campaign.
“I was ineligible, two hours short,” he said. “I made a mistake by coming home for summer school. I should have stayed and fell short on a couple of hours by going to summer school here (in Birmingham).”
The linebacker felt he let his team down when he was out of the lineup. “The guy who was in there, he wasn’t me,” he said. “Teammates were telling me, ‘Man, he can’t get it done.’ I came back (for my junior year) and I was on a whole other level. I had shown that flash from ’98 and the next year, it was like, ‘Where he at?’ You live and you learn. I never came home for summer school again.”
Taylor’s decision to attend Grambling followed in the footsteps of another former Parker standout, Buck Buchanan, a Grambling Hall of Famer who starred as a defensive tackle with the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League and the National Football League. Buchanan was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
“My momma told me she remembered when Buck got drafted (to the National Football League), they had a big block party in the neighborhood,” he recounted. “She used to tell me about all that. There were good players that came out of (Parker) and Buck was one of those. I took pride in going to Grambling, knowing I went to Parker and he went to Parker. I like to look at the legends and see where they’re from.”
Taylor said A large picture of Buchanan greets players as they enter the Parker fieldhouse. Taylor said he and his fellow Thundering Herd coaches try to instill pride in the current crop of players.
The Parker defensive coordinator said it’s about the team.
“When I walk in that fieldhouse, it’s not about me. It’s about Parker,” he said. “I coach the kids about getting good. It ain’t about me. I’m a team player. I’ve always been a team player. I’d give all my solo accolades back to get rings.
“Football is a team sport,” Taylor continued. “We try to teach that to the kids. When I walk in that fieldhouse, I say it’s not about me and it’s not about none of the coaches. It’s about trying to get those boys to do right and get some W’s.”
The Thundering Herd begins its season on August 19 at Fairfield.