Oklahoma State sophomore defensive tackle Vincent Taylor is from New Orleans, but he has never played in a football game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In fact, when he and his teammates face Ole Miss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Friday, it will be the only event he has attended in the Superdome besides the annual Toys For Tots Christmas gift giveaway.
“Playing in the Superdome will just be a Kodak moment for me,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who grew up in the 9th Ward, was 11 years old when Hurricane Katrina devastated his neighborhood in 2005.
“If Katrina would have never happened, I probably would have gone to St. Augustine or Carver High School,” Taylor said. “Because of Katrina, I am blessed to have made it to where I am and be able to come home and play in the Sugar Bowl.”
Taylor and his family evacuated to San Antonio after the storm. His grandmother still lives in the 7th Ward and works at the Superdome. She’ll be working as a supervisor on the suite level Friday night, no doubt keeping one eye on the Cowboys, especially when they’re on defense.
“When I come to New Orleans, I stay with my grandmother,” Taylor said. “So, I got to see her for Christmas and I will get to see her again after the bowl game.”
The Taylor family stayed in the DoubleTree Hotel, where his mother worked, during the storm. Vincent remembers walking through the French Quarter after the storm passed, peaking down side streets and seeing sheets pulled over bodies.
“It was one of those things that I don’t think any parent would want their child to experience,” Taylor said.
Now the whole Taylor family gets to experience Vincent and OSU facing the Rebels in the Sugar Bowl.
“Vincent might not realize it, until he is probably 50 or 60 years old, how special this thing is,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “And I’m happy for his parents, that whatever motivated them to do whatever they did for their child and their family has come out successful. And it’s a great story, a tremendous story.”
Hugh Freeze has turned around the Ole Miss program through recruiting during his first four seasons as head coach.
In 2011, Houston Nutt’s final team finished 2-10, losing their last seven games, including the final three by a combined score of 110-13.
But Freeze’s teams have gone 7-6, 8-5, 9-4 and 9-3, landing some elite national recruits along the way.
His second group was a consensus Top 10 class, featuring the No. 1 national recruit (defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche), the No. 1 offensive tackle (Laremy Tunsil), the No. 1 wide receiver (Laquon Treadwell) and the No. 2 safety (Tony Conner).
“I will forever be indebted to those guys and the other kids, too, that have done a remarkable job,” Freeze said Thursday. “All of the kids that choose to come with you, you’re indebted to.
“(The 2013 class) was an eye-opener, I think, to some of the nation’s best players. And then to have success on the field, to be in two consecutive New Year’s Six games, the Ole Miss brand has just grown. We’re in homes now. If you follow recruiting, you see many of the top players in the nation are listing us as one of their finalists, and that’s the way you continue to build. ”
Looking ahead to 2016
The rankings of these teams — OSU is No. 13 and Ole Miss is No. 16 — aren’t very significant but what the outcome of this game does to them could be.
Where teams finish in the final poll will be a factor when voters compile preseason polls next year.
“Preseason polls do mean something,” Spencer said. “You can talk all you want about they don’t mean anything. When those (CFP) committee members are influenced by those, heck, yeah, it means something.”