Norfolk, VA – Over the years, it's become almost impossible to keep track of the amount of players, coaches and individuals impacted by Florida A&M head football coach Joe Taylor.
Not to mention, the influence he's had on the football conference he has been in for 20 years.
On Friday, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference held its annual preseason football media day and for many it was no surprise six teams received first- place votes.
"This is probably going to be the strongest competitive conference in football that I've seen," Taylor said. "And I've been in this game a long time."
Taylor has been coaching for so long that two coaches whom he mentored while at Hampton University are now head coaches in the MEAC. Hampton's Donovan Rose and Donald Hill-Eley of Morgan State worked closely with Taylor, learning and perfecting their skills with the hope they could someday achieve the same success.
For Hill-Eley and the other coaches who have spent time with Taylor, words can't express the respect and admiration they have for him.
"Nobody calls him friend because most of us call him our father and he has always acted that way towards us," Hill-Eley said. "The type of leadership and character he displays is amazing, and he consistently raises the bar for fellow coaches."
Taylor, who spent 16 seasons at Hampton before taking over a struggling Florida A&M team in 2008, has averaged at least eight wins in the last four seasons.
"I've always said coaching is like a ministry because you're always trying to enhance the lives of young people and to be able to do that for 40 years and counting, I've been truly blessed," Taylor said. "We don't reinvent the wheel, we borrow spokes. This is a fraternity. If you steal one idea, you're a thief, but if you steal a lot of ideas, you're a researcher. So there has been a lot of researching going on throughout my career."
Even opposing players understand the significance Taylor has not just on his team or other coaches, but for the conference as well.
"Coach Taylor's been around for a while and that only helps the image of the MEAC overall," South Carolina State running back Ashton Jordan said. "It shows how quickly the conference has evolved and it even makes the competition a little bit better than before."
Senior linebacker Brandon Hepburn joked with fellow Rattlers teammate Damien Fleming that by now he has heard all of his head coaches' one-liners and metaphors. When Hepburn arrived in Taylor's first year in 2008, the handful of returning players were told they would have to try out for their positions all over again.
"He put an emphasis on our wide receivers and he said if we can't throw the ball, we're just going to run the ball all year," Hepburn said. "But the funny thing was we knew right away he was dead serious, so from that point on, the receivers were the hardest workers at practice."
All joking aside, Hepburn said that his team has bought into Taylor's lessons because they believe he will make them better people in addition to better players.
"His greatest gift to us is teaching us how to be men," Hepburn said. "It's more than what you see on TV or how much money you make, it's truly about the relationships you keep and the type of integrity you develop."
This season, like many before, the Rattlers have a new team motto. Simply, "You can't expect without respect." It's a pretty fitting motto for any team, but in particular it fits perfectly the MEAC conference as a whole.
Although a MEAC team has not won in the playoffs since 1999, the conference has shown an increase in quality of teams and players in recent years. Four different teams have won conference titles in the past five years, 10 players signed NFL free agent contracts this year and the teams have started to schedule tougher out-of-conference games. Thus, the MEAC has slowly built a foundation for better recognized and competitive football.
"The MEAC is a rising conference even though people usually doubt us," Bethune-Cookman senior wide receiver Eddie Poole said. "The coaching and talent alone in the last 10 years has been much improved. That creates competition, which strengthens the conference."
Preseason first-team all-conference lineman Blake Matthews of Norfolk State talked about the possibility of repeating and credited what he learned from last year's 2011 class.
"We don't like to look to far back on last season, but we did have a great group of seniors that really mentored this year's class, "Matthews said. "They taught us how to lead by example, so we're going to use that to our advantage this season."
All of the top five preseason teams had a record of 7-4 or better last season. South Carolina State head coach Buddy Pough has led the Bulldogs to at least seven wins in each of his 10 seasons and Florida A&M has four all- conference selections back for 2012.
MEAC FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL
(Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors)
1. Norfolk State (11 first-place votes), 454 points
2. South Carolina State (4), 432
3. Bethune-Cookman (3), 417
4. Florida A&M (2), 354
5. Hampton (1), 268
6. North Carolina A&T, 216
7. Morgan State, 198
8. Howard, 188
9. North Carolina Central, 116
10. Delaware State, 78
11. Savannah State (1), 73
PRESEASON MEAC ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year - Mike Mayhew, RB, North Carolina A&T
Defensive Player of the Year - Keith Pough, LB, Howard
QB - Greg McGhee, Howard, So.
RB - Mike Mayhew, North Carolina A&T, Sr.
RB - Isidore Jackson, Bethune-Cookman, Jr.
WR - Xavier Boyce, Norkfolk State, Sr.
WR - Tavis Tarpley, Delaware State, Sr.
TE - Joeseph Hawkins, Norfolk State, Sr.
C - Michael Kay, Norfolk State, Sr.
OL - Steven Robinson, Florida A&M, Sr.
OL - Blake Mathhews, Norfolk State, Sr.
OL - Terrence Hackney, Bethune-Cookman, Jr.
OL - Cory Gwinner, Howard, Sr.
DL - Tony Mashburn, North Carolina A&T, Sr.
DL - Padric Scott, Florida A&M, Sr.
DL - Richard, Ndubueze, Morgan State Sr.
DL - Mathhew Davis, Hampton, Jr.
LB - Keith Pough, Howard, Sr.
LB - Jarkevis Fields, Bethune-Cookman, Jr.
LB - D'Vonte Grant, North Carolina A&T, So.
DB - John Ojo, Florida A&M, Sr.
DB - DeVontae Johnson, Florida A&M, So.
DB - Travis Crosby, North Carolina A&T, Jr.
DB - D.J. Howard, Bethune-Cookman, Jr.
First-Team Special Teams
PK - Everett Goldberg, Norfolk State, Sr.
P - Brandon Holdren, Florida A&M, Sr.
RS - Geovonie Irvin, North Carolina Central, Sr.
QB - Damien Fleming, Florida A&M, So.
RB - Antwon Chisholm, Hampton, Jr.
RB - Travis Davidson, Morgan State, Sr.
WR - Eddie Poole, Bethune-Cookman, Sr.
WR - Justin Wilson, Delaware State, Sr.
TE - Kris Drummond, Savannah State, So.
C - Tristan Bellamy, South Carolina State, So.
C - Vincent Harper, Hampton, Jr.
OL - Sam Hammond, South Carolina State, Sr.
OL - Nathan Isles, North Carolina A&T, Jr.
OL - Cameron Williams, Norfolk State, Jr.
OL - Marquell Rozier, Bethune-Cookman, Jr.
DL - Xavier Proctor, North Carolina Central, Sr.
DL - Leon Smith, South Carolina State, Sr.
DL - Herold Love III, Bethune-Cookman, Sr.
DL - Brandon Young, North Carolina A&T, Sr.
LB - Delbert Tyler, Hampton, Jr.
LB - Joe Thomas, South Carolina State, Jr.
LB - Lyndell Gibson, Hampton, Sr.
DB - Justin Blake, Hampton, Sr.
DB - Kenneth Ridley, Morgan State, Jr.
DB - Darius Drummond, South Carolina State, Jr.
DB - DeCarlos Knight, Howard, Sr.
Second-Team Special Teams
PK - Taureab Durham, Hampton, Sr.
P - Jordan Stovall, Hampton, Jr.
RS - Darius Drummond, South Carolina State, Jr.