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Newcomers Taylor, Wegher provide additional punch beyond OU’s 2011 Recruiting Class
Londell Taylor always dreamed of following his cousin Terrill Francis to Oklahoma.
Now, although a bit delayed, Taylor will carry the Sooner dreams of both.
Francis, a state blue-chip recruit committed to the Sooners entering his senior season at Vian, never made it to OU, dying in his sleep at age 18 on an August day in 1999.
It was a devastating blow to the family and community and to Taylor, who idolized his cousin.
“I think about it all the time,” said Taylor, an unofficial member of OU’s latest football recruiting class, technically a walk-on after spending the past four years in professional baseball. “He had committed to OU after his junior season, but during two-a-days, he went home and went to sleep and never woke up. They said he just died in his sleep, had a heart problem.
“I know for my family, it’s like I’m going to get to live the dream that he didn’t get to. I was always going to follow in his footsteps. He was that older cousin, the one you look up to when you’re younger.”
Taylor never stopped looking up to the example Francis set, but his path to Norman took a circuitous route.
A three-sport athlete at Vian, Taylor signed with the Sooners in 2007, enjoying all the celebration that signing day delivers with a ceremony in front of the school during an assembly.
“Being from Oklahoma, it’s a lot of people’s dream to be a Sooner,” said Taylor. “It was my dream since I was little.”
And the dream was so close to reality, until the spring brought about baseball and a big season and a band of scouts, resulting in the Detroit Tigers making Taylor their 13th round pick in the MLB draft. And when the Tigers flashed a sizable bonus in front of him, plus the promise to pay for his college after four years, Taylor couldn’t resist.
“It’s a real tough decision, especially at a young age when they throw the money out there to sign you up,” Taylor said. “Someone that age, it’s easy to quickly go after the money.”
Four injury-plagued seasons of minor-league baseball later, Taylor is going after the dream.
A two-way starter as a wide receiver and strong safety at Vian and a first-team All-State pick as a defensive back, Taylor could play safety or linebacker at OU. And he could be quite a sleeper find, considering the Tigers — not the Sooners — are paying for school.
He’s one of two promising non-scholarship additions, along with Iowa transfer Brandon Wegher. While Taylor is eligible to play this fall, Wegher will sit out next season with an eye on joining the running back competition for 2012.
Turns out, Wegher grew up with a fondness for the Sooners, too, despite growing up in Iowa, where he was a three-time All-State pick while rushing for 6,825 career yards and 105 touchdowns.
Wegher was first turned on to OU by his aunt, Pam Wagner, who once lived in Norman. And when things went sour for Wegher at Iowa, he looked to the Sooners for a career revival.
Wegher sat out the 2010 season with the Hawkeyes for “personal reasons,” following a debut year in which he set the school freshman rushing record.
“I went through some issues, some personal things,” said Wegher. “Now I’m back on top of it. I’m looking forward to moving forward and being a part of the Sooner family.”
Wegher applied for a transfer waiver with the NCAA, seeking immediate eligibility with the Sooners, but was denied, meaning he’ll have to sit out again in 2011.
Taylor’s impact could come much quicker, if he can make a smooth transition back to football.
“I’m just ready to go,” said Taylor. “I’m anxious to be back in football. I know it’s going to take some time, although not that long — maybe a few snaps — to get used to the speed of the game. I know I’m athletic enough. I can catch on quickly.”
The athleticism is what attracted the Sooners to Taylor in the first place.
As a senior at Vian, he caught 46 passes for 1,171 yards and 16 touchdowns and also ran 12 times for 111 yards — a whopping 9.25 average per carry. On defense, he returned four of his seven interceptions for touchdowns and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
It continued right on through basketball and baseball, which is where Taylor’s dream took a detour.
A trying detour.
In four minor-league seasons combined, he hit just .159 as an outfielder, with injuries derailing him at every turn.
In his first season of rookie ball, his debut ended at 17 games when he suffered a broken ankle. He played 35 games the next year, back in rookie ball, but lost a month and a half to a fractured thumb.
An injury-free third season of rookie ball didn’t help much, as he batted but .139. When hamstring woes led to a career-worst .128 average last year, Taylor knew it was time to seriously consider his options.
“It was hard, especially when I kept getting injured,” said Taylor. “It’s real competitive in the minors, you’ve got so many guys going for one spot, and injuries don’t help. And I just never put together a good season.
“This past season, it was coming up on my fourth season of baseball. I only had to play four seasons before the Tigers would pay for my school. I just told myself that I was going to play that season and if I didn’t have a good season, I knew I would be done.”
In retrospect, it’s amazing Taylor lasted as long as he did.
“The very first season, the very first two weeks, I was ready to come back home,” he said. “But my mom made me play. It was just a fact of being homesick. Once I got over that, I enjoyed it a lot more and had a lot more fun with it.”
To resist temptations, Taylor wouldn’t even allow himself to think about football.
“I kind of made myself turn away from it for a year or two,” he said. “I wouldn’t allow myself to watch football on TV or really even talk about it. That’s how much I missed it.”
Playing games and practicing and making friends, that was fun. But it was eye-opening, too, with all the long bus rides and being on the job in a cutthroat business at age 18.
“Oh, it’s definitely a culture shock,” said Taylor. “I don’t feel like I was prepared for what I got into at all. Riding the buses every day, knowing that I was going to be playing baseball all day every day for the rest of my life is something I wasn’t ready for.”
Still, he came out on the other side, better for the experience and better prepared for what now lies ahead.
“It definitely helped me mature a lot,” said Taylor. “Being 18 when I decided to play, playing with a lot of older people, people who are already out of college, I felt like I had to grow up quicker.”
Now he’s one of the “older” guys at OU.
“Definitely wished I would have gone in 2007, so I could be finished with the school part,” he said. “Going to class and sitting there listening to professors talk for an hour and take notes, it’s taking some getting used to. I thought it would be hard, but it’s actually pretty easy. I guess that comes with being older.”
Back in the state, Taylor noticed the success of Brandon Weeden, another former pro baseball player, at Oklahoma State, and he knew that Tyler Johnson was another ballplayer making the transition for the Cowboys.
Taylor had another connection to OSU, too, with cousin Kenyatta Wright another Vian product and former Cowboy.
The Sooners, however, remained the dream.
Taylor’s high school coach, Brandon Tyler, made the first contact with OU’s director of football operations, Merv Johnson. From there, Taylor attended the Texas Tech game in November, and later defensive coordinator Brent Venables got involved.
“And I got committed again,” said Taylor.
So the dream remains.
“I’m excited, I can tell you that,” he added. “It’s just fun to be back in school. It’s fun to be practicing football and getting ready for the spring game and the season itself. Once I started playing baseball, I hoped I’d play longer. But now that it’s over, I missed football so much I’m just glad to be back in it.”
(Editor's note: This story appears in the 2011 Sooner Spectator Recruiting Issue. To subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877.)