MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Badgers receiver Quintez Cephus was watching film alongside members of the coaching staff last Monday when he received a call from his brother. Cephus got the worst kind of news. His father, Andre Taylor, had been shot in the head that afternoon following an argument outside a convenience store in Macon, Georgia, and was in critical condition.
"Emotions went from zero to 100 very quickly," Badgers receivers coach Ted Gilmore said. "It's one of those deals where you really can't say anything but just hold him."
In an instant, Cephus' world drastically changed. He and Gilmore flew to Georgia that day so Cephus could be with his family. Taylor was placed on life support and died the following day.
Cephus returned to Georgia for a second trip this week to attend his father's funeral. And for Badgers coaches and teammates in Madison, they are attempting to find ways to provide emotional support.
"Just trying to be around him and encourage him," Badgers receiver George Rushing said. "I know he's not going to really want people around him all the time. But just let him know, 'Hey, if you need us, we're there.'"
Cephus posted a tribute to his father on Instagram last week, which read, in part: "Daddy you raised me to be a champion. From knowing what type of education I needed, sending me to Stratford (High School) to taking me to play ball every week. Everybody thought you were crazy how much you believe in me and my ability to change lives. I will accomplish everything daddy. You were truly first class man."
Cephus, a 6-foot-1, 201-pound sophomore, was a standout high school football and basketball player and had Division I scholarship offers in both sports. He appeared in 12 games for the Badgers last season as a freshman and caught four passes for 94 yards. His natural ability was on display this spring, as he put together several breakout practices that pushed him into contention for a starting receiver spot opposite senior Jazz Peavy. Gilmore said the coaching staff is expecting Cephus to occupy such a role in the fall.
“He was picking up where he left off," Gilmore said. "The game was starting to slow down a little bit, and he was able to make some adjustments. If he made a mistake, he could tell you why, as opposed to a year ago he couldn’t. Obviously, we’re missing him and he’s missing some valuable time, but when we get him back, I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running."
Cephus' ascension comes at a time when Wisconsin is looking for a solid second receiver to bolster Peavy, who caught 43 passes for a team-high 635 yards and five touchdowns. Rob Wheelwright, who has used up his eligibility, added 34 catches for 448 yards with a touchdown. The Badgers' returning wide receiver corps is largely unproven. Outside of Peavy, only Rushing, Cephus and A.J. Taylor recorded a catch last season, combining for 19 receptions, 283 yards and no touchdowns.
Cephus has helped his cause, in part, by spending so much time in the film room, which is why Gilmore and Badgers head coach Paul Chryst were with him when he first heard the news about his father.
"It's hard," Chryst told reporters following last Friday's practice. "I think it's hard any time, but something so unexpected. I think everyone, coaches, players, you want to be there for him. But there's things that he's got to go through, too, on his own. It's a hard deal. I appreciate how he's handled it. You certainly feel for him. The guys, this is a good group. He knows that, and I think that's been helpful for him, but that's a long process."
Gilmore volunteered to fly to Georgia with Cephus to provide comfort, and the pair returned last Thursday. Cephus then participated in Wisconsin's scrimmage Friday before returning to his hometown to prepare for funeral services.
"When he came back, he was normal Quintez," said Peavy, who checked in with Cephus via text last week. "I don't think anyone around here was trying to treat him differently or anything like that. I feel like that's the best thing you can do for someone in a situation like that and just make him feel as comfortable as possible."
Cephus has missed three practices since the shooting, and coaches have made certain he understands there is no pressure to return too quickly. Family comes first. And the Badgers say they hope to supply an extension of that family atmosphere as Cephus continues to handle tragedy.
"Without looking at the young man's phone, he was getting a lot of people reaching out to him," Gilmore said. "He doesn't question if he's loved. He doesn't question what he means to these guys. They've all been around. I think he's anxious to get this behind him and start the healing process, and part of that is being here with his football family."