Mission Bay wide receiver Lamarriel Taylor (2) earned a scholarship to UMass after catching 72 passes for 1,516 yards and three touchdowns as a senior for the Bucs.
As a sophomore at Cahokia High — not far from the crime-infested community of East St. Louis, Ill. — Lamarriel Taylor was branded “the 6 percent.”
That’s the rate of Cahokia students who annually drop out.
“I was struggling in a few classes and asked my teachers for help, and some of them looked me in the face and told me I would never be anything,” said Taylor, now a senior at Mission Bay High.
“I had this bad reputation based on my brothers who came before me. (One) brother who attended the school sort of set the bar for me, unintentionally, back when he was getting into trouble, back before he matured and really got on the path to doing the right things.
“(Teachers) didn’t give me a chance. They judged me.”
None of Taylor’s four older brothers finished high school. None attended college. One received a 65-year prison sentence for committing a violent crime.
That was the direction some believed Taylor would follow.
Before his junior year, however, Taylor sought another path, one leading to San Diego, where he has thrived academically and athletically.
Last week, the Mission Bay wide receiver returned to his hometown of East St. Louis to sign a national letter of intent — in front of family and friends — to play football for the University of Massachusetts.
Labeled “America’s war zone” by Southern Illinois U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton, East St. Louis ranked as Neighborhoodscout.com’s most dangerous city in America last year, edging Camden, N.J., and Flint, Mich. — both list regulars.
Statistics show East St. Louis residents have a 1-in-17 chance of being a violent-crime victim and a 1-in-7 chance of being victimized in a property crime.
Fearful of becoming another statistic, Taylor opted to uproot himself and move to San Diego to live with his uncle, Kerel Carter, who is in the Navy.
“A fresh start, a new beginning, a new opportunity,” Taylor said.
In new surroundings, Taylor could free himself of the stench and stigma attached to his last name and reverse the odds hindering his growth.
“He didn’t have to worry about working or anything else but going to school to receive his education. School was his job,” Carter said. “Whatever he did freshman and sophomore (year) meant nothing. Coming out here gave him a clean slate.
“When you’re around the same crowd for a long period of time, and that crowd isn’t living up to its potential, it’s toxic and easy for you to become one of those individuals, too. So, California gave him a new outlook on life, which allowed him to just focus.”
Taylor, who lives in Chula Vista, enrolled at Mission Bay for its International Baccalaureate program. He maintained a 4.0 GPA and scored a 2,000 on his SAT.
After sitting out the first six games of his junior year, Taylor earned All-Western League honors as a senior, catching 72 passes for 1,516 yards and three touchdowns while helping lead the Buccaneers (12-2) to a runner-up finish in the San Diego Section Division II playoffs.
Syracuse, Fordham, Georgia State, Massachusetts, Duke and Indiana offered scholarships to Taylor, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound, two-star receiver. Ultimately, UMass felt like home. He joined the Minutemen, whose football program was elevated to FBS status two years ago.
“I always told myself that I’d never give up,” said Taylor, who became the first in his family to attend college.
“I’m going to amount to something in society and I’m going to achieve my dreams.”