STILLWATER, Okla. -- At the age of 10, Vincent Taylor and his older brother finally got the new bunk beds they had been longing for.
Taylor, however, only got to sleep in the bed a few nights. And almost every other earthly possession he had, he lost forever.
Days after the bunk beds arrived, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, destroying his home and turning his world upside down.
“I lost everything," Taylor said. "I had to start over.
"And that really made me who I am today.”
Today, Taylor is Oklahoma State’s standout defensive tackle, who has carved out a name by blocking extra points and dishing out option laterals that might impress Tommie Frazier.
Taylor leads the country with three blocked kicks, two of which came in the Cowboys’ victory over Texas earlier this month. On his first block that game, Taylor also scooped up the fumble, rumbled the other way and just as he was about to be dragged down from behind, flipped the ball to teammate Tre Flowers, who coasted in for a momentum-changing two-point play.
Afterward, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy joked that Taylor reminded him of former Sooners option quarterback great Jamelle Holieway.
Last weekend against Kansas, Taylor was at it again. After an interception return, Cowboys safety Jordan Sterns was about to get tackled. But before his knee hit the turf, he spotted Taylor.
“He’s such a great athlete,” Sterns said. “I thought, 'Man, you know what, why not?'”
Sterns lateraled the ball back to Taylor, who, without hesitation, broke upfield. Reminiscent of a wishbone quarterback, Taylor waited until he was about to be hit. Then as he was, Taylor pitched the ball to fellow defensive lineman Jarrell Owens, who ran for another 29 yards to the Kansas 16 to complete the wild, 64-yard return.
“When you know you’re capable of something,” Taylor said, “you go for it.”
Taylor’s path to football prominence began long before he arrived in Stillwater. In earnest, it started on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, when Katrina reached his hometown of New Orleans.
The day before, heeding the mayor’s warning, Taylor, his father and his brother joined his mother at the DoubleTree Hotel, where she worked.
“They allowed all the employees to have a room to bring their families,” said Taylor’s dad, Victor Sr. “They put us in a room on the 10th floor.”
There, the Taylors were safe from the storm. Their house, however, was not. The roof of their home caved in, and after the levees broke, water destroyed the rest of it.
All the Taylors had left was what they had brought to the hotel. They couldn't even get back home because of the flooding.
“Our neighborhood was underwater,” Victor said.
Unsure of what to do next, they hunkered down in the DoubleTree for several days. But they couldn’t stay there forever. And so, they hopped in their car, which had been protected by the hotel garage, and started driving down Highway 90.
“To that day, I had never left Louisiana before,” Taylor said.
Initially, the family had intentions of driving all the way to New York. But when they stopped at a McDonald’s in Sealy, Texas, Victor realized they’d have to go back the other way through Louisiana to get there. So he asked the cashier for the nearest city.
That was San Antonio.
There, another family — the Crosbys — took them in, along with another 20 people or so that had evacuated New Orleans, including a few of Taylor’s relatives who had left the city before Katrina had made landfall.
With nothing to go back to in Louisiana, the Taylors decided to make a new life in San Antonio.
“It was scary, because I didn't have many clothes,” Taylor said. “I had to get used to the culture, get used to going to school with different people.”
Victor said life wasn’t easy for his son at first.
“It was pretty rough for Vincent,” he said. “He got labeled as a refugee; he got teased for that. He was a big kid, too, and other kids challenged him. From elementary school to middle school, it was very difficult and hard for my son.”
By seventh grade, Taylor found an outlet, and a way to fit in, through football.
“He got to take out the frustration,” Victor said. “And build it into something positive.”
By the time he reached Madison High School, Taylor had become a standout football and basketball player. While in town to recruit Madison linebacker Kris Catlin, Oklahoma State assistant coach Glenn Spencer also took notice of Taylor, who was then a sophomore.
“Mr. Taylor,” Spencer told Victor. “I’m coming back to get your son when he becomes a senior.”
As he eventually did with San Antonio, Victor said his son fell in love with the “family environment of Stillwater.”
He won a starting job with the Pokes as a sophomore last year and has blossomed into one of the top defensive tackles in the Big 12.
Last season, after winning 10 regular-season games, the Cowboys secured a berth to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. That took Taylor back to New Orleans.
“That was very special to me,” he said. “I had been in the Superdome before. As a kid, we used to go there every Christmas. To be back in that dome after everything that had happened, it brought tears to my eyes.”
Taylor, his brother and his father have tattoos on their right forearms outlining the state of Louisiana with a star denoting New Orleans and the date of Katrina, "8-29-2005."
“Even though we had to make a new home in San Antonio, which was so great to me and my family, we wanted to remember New Orleans was still home to us, too,” Victor said.
The Taylors moved back to New Orleans this year. Victor said he drives by their old home almost every other day as a reminder. Of where his family started. And how far they've all come.
"One of things I always tell myself and tell people is that Katrina humbled me," Vincent Taylor said. "It's made me a humble young guy, a guy who walks by faith.
"Katrina made me who I am."