Memory of cousin inspires 49ers rookie

One of the things Keith Reaser misses most about his older cousin, Sean Taylor, is how he united the extended family.

Every Sunday, if the family wasn’t watching its fabulously talented prodigy dominate as a star safety for the Washington Redskins live, it would gather at a family home to watch Taylor on television.

Seven years later, Reaser hopes to give his family the chance to revisit those wonderful memories. When the San Francisco 49ers took Reaser, a talented but injured cornerback from Florida Atlantic, in the fifth round of last month’s draft, they brought back the NFL to a family.

When Reaser was 16, Taylor, a Pro Bowl safety for the Redskins, was shot and killed by intruders at his home in November 2007. Taylor was 24. His death shocked the NFL. It devastated his family.

“It was such a tough time for us,” said Reaser, whose mother is the sister of Taylor’s mother. “He was our focal point. So much was about Sean. For it to happen like that and being in the spotlight, it was very difficult to handle.”

Like his older cousin, Reaser is represented by agent Drew Rosenhaus. He was close with Taylor and recalls his death as one of the most difficult memories of his life. Rosenhaus relishes the chance to work Taylor’s family member.

“It’s special,” Rosenhaus said. “It’s really nice to be around these great people with something nice going on. Sean’s passing was so difficult on me and, of course, the family. To be around them for something that is going on is really a blessing.”

Reaser is proud to follow his cousin to the NFL. While Taylor was eight years his senior, he was definitely a role model for Reaser. The two would work out together, and Reaser tried to glean everything he could from Taylor, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2004 draft.

“I watched every game he ever played,” Reaser said, “from him being at Miami in college to the NFL. We used to run and train together. What I learned most from him was his passion and work ethic. He taught me that, and I will never forget it.”

Reaser learned from the best. ESPN analyst Louis Riddick was a pro scout when the Redskins drafted Taylor and was the team’s director of pro personnel during Taylor’s final three seasons. Taylor remains special to Riddick.

"[Taylor was] the best athlete that I ever scouted from a size, speed, instincts and competitiveness perspective for any position coming out of college,” Riddick said. “He was a Kam Chancellor-style hitter with fluidity, grace and ball skills that could not be matched as far as safeties go. Developed a commitment to being the greatest he could be, which would have been one of the greatest of all time. Very football smart, very likeable, very coachable; he was everything I wish I could have been when I was a player, and I used to tell him that. [He was] taken from his family and friends way, way, way too soon.”

Rosenhaus said he thinks Reaser used some of the strength developed from from the loss of his older cousin when he suffered a setback that could have devastated other players. Reaser, who Rosenhaus said could have gone as high as the second round if healthy, tore his left ACL in October playing for FAU. It was discovered at the NFL combine in February that the grafting in his surgery did not work. He had to undergo a second surgery.

“Keith handled that devastating news so well,” Rosenhaus said. “I think he was able to bounce back partially because he learned how to deal with devastation early. He has the perseverance many young men don’t have.”

There is a chance Reaser could be ready to play later this year. But the 49ers, who have a loaded roster, drafted Reaser for the future. They believe Reaser, who has good size for a cornerback, is a fluid athlete who can develop into a strong contributor.

Reaser, who has long studied film of his cousin, can’t wait until he gets his turn in the NFL.

“He would have been the best safety ever to play,” Reaser said of Taylor. “I want to make his memory proud.”