Andre Taylor taught his youngest son many facets of life that any other father would — how to drive, how to work out, how to believe in himself.
Taylor’s relationship with Quintez Cephus, however, stretched much deeper than words of encouragement and typical father-son activities. More than anything, Taylor wanted to expose his children to the horrors of their neighborhood in Macon, Georgia, sights that hammered the importance of leaving their hometown behind.
It’s a place that trapped the troublemaking Taylor at a young age, and somewhere that revealed the reality of gangs, drugs and prostitution to Cephus when he was still a young boy. Taylor never hid that world from his children, as he feared ignorance would one day suck them right into it.
“We were in a lot of bad situations,” Cephus said. “Everybody comes from different backgrounds, but my father was powerful. He taught me everything I know. My father taught me the way to live.
“He had to do what he had to. I think he let me experience all that so I can make the choices that I need to make, so I can be different, so I can be the change in my family. … Everything I saw when I was little, everything that was put in my face, I learned from it, good and bad. I wouldn’t be where I am and wouldn’t be as strong as I am today if it wasn’t for my circumstances.”
Cephus did get out of Macon, and it was at the University of Wisconsin, where he’s a sophomore wide receiver, that he received a phone call from a family member April 3 informing him that Taylor had been shot in the head.
Authorities said Taylor was arguing with a man named Calvin Stapleton outside a convenience store in Macon that day. When Taylor began walking away, Stapleton shot him with a pistol. Taylor died the next day, and Stapleton was charged with murder and criminal street gang activity.
Cephus rushed home after receiving the news and saw his father in critical condition before his death. He posted a heartfelt eulogy on Instagram reflecting on Taylor’s success with the “dope game” and “gang banging,” describing how his father positively affected his life and vowing to provide for the rest of his family once he left UW.
“It’s life on the edges down there,” Cephus said in July. “One thing I remember is my father always had the mirrors in his car adjusted so he could see behind him, see everywhere around him, because he always knew if somebody had a chance, somebody would do what they did to him.
“He always told me he could be here today and gone tomorrow, so I always, always cherished every moment I had with him.”
That didn’t lessen the shock of Taylor’s death for Cephus or make the mourning period any easier.
Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who traveled with Cephus to Macon after his father was shot, noticed the smile disappear from Cephus’ face and described the sophomore as “just hanging on” during the remainder of spring practices. Cephus was back with the Badgers physically but not mentally.
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He had the support of his teammates to push him on, though. Cornerback Derrick Tindal could relate to Cephus better than anyone. The senior also grew up in a rough neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and he lost his mother to cancer during his freshman year at UW.
“I know I needed somebody to talk to when I was hurt, but I didn’t want to say it,” Tindal said. “I know when you come from a neighborhood like that, it’s tough to show feelings, especially being a man. Everybody tries to put on a tough-guy act, but deep down inside, I knew he needed somebody there for him. I took it into account and helped him out.”
Cephus’ bond with his father was truly special — one that Taylor built through honesty, love and commitment.
That connection did take time to develop, though. Their earliest memories together came at a prison, where Cephus said his father served a five-year sentence that began when he was barely older than an infant.
“I had to go to a prison to see my father. It was kind of tough,” Cephus said. “I was never really able to meet him until I was in the second grade. It was kind of hard to develop a relationship with someone like that behind bars. But when he came home, (my siblings and I) spent a lot of time with him. We were with him almost every day. He was a person who loved to be with his kids. He always wanted to spend time with us.”
Their relationship started too late and ended too soon, but Cephus will honor his father this year by wearing a sticker on his helmet with his father’s initials. Through the tragedy, he’s emerged as UW’s No. 2 wide receiver and enters this season as one of the Badgers’ most likely breakout candidates.
Taylor and Cephus shared the vision of Cephus climbing his way to the NFL and using the money that comes with it to dig his family out from their life in Macon.
“I think early on, (Cephus) had his sights set to get to the highest level that he could possibly get to,” said Mark Farriba, Cephus’ high school coach at Stratford Academy. “His education was important to him. Athletics were important to him. He really realized he had something in front of him that could possibly get him a chance to really go out and see more of what the world had to offer — get to another level and really reach as high as he could. I think he definitely had a drive for that.”
Cephus’ accomplishments on and off the field are already impressive. He graduated from high school, qualified academically at UW, earned Division I scholarships in both football and basketball and made significant contributions to the Badgers’ top-10 finish in the national rankings as a true freshman.
Regardless of his progression on the field moving forward, he’s already where his father always wanted him to be — receiving a high level of education away from Macon. Cephus has enough ability and athleticism to realize that NFL dream if he excels for the Badgers over the next few years, though. His father’s death won’t deter him from chasing it.
“I am going to do that,” Cephus said. “I’m going to do that for my family, for my dad, for me. … I stuck with it and was able to get an education that could get me to college. He always believed in me. I just had that drive, and I’ve just got to help my family get out of those circumstances so my brother or I don’t go down the same path as my dad.
“That’s all he wanted. He just didn’t want his kids to go down the same road as him.”