While fans of Taylor Gabriel’s game might identify him as quick, fast or explosive, his father Calvin Gabriel used the word curious to describe his son as a youth. “He always wanted to hang with the older kids,” Calvin said. “He never played with kids his age. He has a brother six years older than him, so he always tried to keep up with him.”
Taylor hails from a football family and he quickly became well versed on the subject as a result of his aforementioned curiosity. “Taylor used to line up his offense and his defense with pennies,” Calvin said. “That’s how we kept him quiet. Each penny was either Daddy or Uncle Junior. He was just a natural to the game.” Due to Kimberly Gabriel’s [his mother] love for the game of football, and his family’s continuous involvement with football, it became imminent that Taylor would soon embark upon a football journey of his own. However, he had much to aspire to, as his pedigree is quite astounding.
Taylor’s family presents a pantheon of football greatness. His grandfathers Emmitt and Curly are both Texas high school football hall-of-fame members, and his cousin Billy Don Jackson earned All-America honors at UCLA, and later played for the Oakland Raiders. While there might have been some pressure to perform, Taylor remained unfazed and began playing football on the defensive side of the football at five-years old. “After a year of defense, Taylor was really good at it,” Calvin said. “Then Taylor came to me and said, ‘Daddy, I want to run the ball.’ And that’s where it started.”
Calvin recounted bantering with another parent in the stands after Taylor’s team was backed up to the one-yard line prior to his first little league football carry. Another parent facetiously said, “Sure, your son is going to go 99 yards for a touchdown.” Resisting the temptation to tell the other parent he was right, Calvin instead calmly told that parent, “Yes he is.” Calvin’s words proved to be prophetic as Taylor made two defenders miss in route to a 99-yard touchdown on his first carry in little league football. “That was the moment I knew he was special,” Calvin said. Taylor’s Mesquite Pee Wee Football teams won three city league titles and was dubbed the best little league football team in the country.
When Taylor turned 11-years old [Midget boys age group] he began running track. Taylor made the Junior Olympic national team in the 200-meter dash twice. He also became a three-time-national qualifier in the 4×100-meter relay, as well as the 4×400-meter relay. “Track turned out to be a great thing,” Calvin said. “It honed his speed and how to run and how to lean which correlates to football. “When you can run that curve at full speed and you can translate that to the football field; running an arc, or part of your route to get away from someone in a burst, it only enhances it.”
Taylor continued to enjoy success in the realm of athletics. His mother Kimberly was routinely in the stands cheering for her son as he garnered numerous accolades, but unfortunately there would come a day when the cheers would cease to be. Taylor’s mother died in 2006 from a brain aneurysm shortly after dropping Taylor and his sister Chloe off at school. Though he and his family were able to persevere through such a tragic loss, Calvin illustrated traces of pain associated with Kimberly’s passing.
“It was hard. Me and Taylor grew closer, but it hurts. At that age, he’s a young man without his mom. It still affects him ‘til this day. He has her tattooed all over his heart and carries items of hers with him and keeps them with him and I think it’s beautiful. […] It’s gotten easier, but we’ll never get over it. […] I just wanted to make sure he knows it’s not the trouble in the valley; it’s how you walk through it. How you walk through it is how you show love for your mother. The way we live is to honor her.”
Taylor continued to excel on the gridiron using football as a vehicle to feel closer to his mother, but he did not begin his high school career at John Horn on the varsity team. “I used to tell him, you’re good, but I was on varsity as a freshman for a state championship team, Calvin said.” “Taylor said, ‘You know what dad? Before the year is up, I’m going to experience that.’ Sure enough, he comes home that same year and says, ‘Dad, they moved me up to varsity!’ We’re very competitive; Taylor is a champion.”
The top programs in the country such as Georgia, Stanford and Michigan recruited Taylor, but he didn’t meet the requisite SAT scores until the waning moments of the recruiting process. Eager to commit to a school, Taylor chose Division-II Abilene Christian. “I only asked one thing of him,” Calvin said. “If you go Division-II, you must dominate at that level.”
Taylor took heed to his father’s words and dominated the Southland Conference. He got his first opportunity on special teams and returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown. “When they [Abilene Christian coaching staff] found out that other guys couldn’t keep up with him out of his breaks, the door was wide open,” Calvin said.
Taylor began seeing more snaps on offense and quickly made his presence felt. In his senior season he amassed 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns on 73 receptions. Though he received attention from scouts throughout his senior season, and earned a “draftable” grade, Taylor was not selected in the 2014 NFL draft. He accepted a tryout invitation from the Cleveland Browns but was considered a long shot to make the roster. Taylor’s play would quickly turn doubters into believers throughout camp. Calvin reflected on what he told Taylor and his agent heading into camp.
“Taylor and his agent were telling me they were hopeful he’d make the practice squad. I said, practice squad? No, Taylor is going to make that team.”
When asked about attributes that enabled Taylor to make the Browns’ 53-man roster, Calvin said, “Taylor has a very laid back attitude, but he has a laser focus. He is constantly thinking.”
One classic example of Taylor’s laser focus and perpetual state of thought is his ability to absorb playbooks in esoteric fashion. Calvin elaborated on his son’s focus and ability to process information.
“When he came home for the bye week and he was dealing with the playbook, there was a formula he found from one play to the next. He was able to correlate that with everything in the playbook. Now he knows that playbook. We’ve always talked about making plays in between heartbeats. You make your plays, you make your moves and you make your cuts in between heartbeats.”
Calvin and his family are clearly proud of Taylor and all he’s achieved. “I’m most proud of his attitude, the man he’s become,” Calvin said. “He continues to be a very humble guy. He’s worked for it, and he’s always had to work for it. Nothing has ever come easy. We wish Kimberly was here to see all of our kid’s achievements, but I know she’s watching all of us.”
While Taylor was between practice and meetings, he took the time to speak with Pro Player Insiders about his upbringing, as well as his rookie season.
More stories you might like