STEPHENS CITY — His first two-plus years at Sherando High School, Isaiah Taylor didn’t have a permanent home and lived with his family at the local Salvation Army.
The shelter didn’t have internet and it had an 8 p.m. curfew, so he would stay after school to finish his homework in the school library. Sometimes he would go to the public library or a fast food restaurant. Or he would finish his homework at school in the morning, when the bus from the shelter dropped him off earlier than most students.
These weren’t the only challenges he faced. He lost an older sibling in a homicide. He has a younger sibling with Down syndrome. His father has been incarcerated twice.
“Isaiah’s had to be without a father figure two different times in his life,” Taylor’s mother, Marcie Taylor, said, adding that even though her son has been through a lot, he hasn’t let that define who he is.
“With Isaiah’s situation the chances for high school success was not favorable,” Debbie Potter, director of guidance and a school counselor at Sherando, wrote in a scholarship application for him.
But Taylor didn’t let adversity stop him. Instead, he used his hardships as lessons.
“Amid all of that muck and confusion and not having his own space and all that, he was able to focus and make a goal and achieve it,” Potter said in a recent interview.
The 18-year-old, who graduates on June 8 from Sherando, will do so with a 3.82 grade point average and as a member of the National Honor Society who played high school football, never missing a practice. He also never missed a day of school. And he will be the first member of his family to attend college when he enrolls this fall at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pa., where he plans to major in biology. He’s considering a career in physical therapy. One of his favorite classes at Sherando was anatomy.
Taylor’s perseverance hasn’t gone unnoticed. On May 20 at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville, he received the Courageous Achievement Award from The Allstate Foundation and the Virginia High School League, which came with a $1,500 scholarship. Taylor was among 19 high school seniors from across the state, out of 93,000 qualified student-athletes, who were honored at the Achievement Awards, which are the highest honors given by the VHSL.
When he first learned that he had won, he didn’t realize how significant it was until he heard how many student-athletes were eligible for an Achievement Award.
“I overcame many hardships, and I stuck to the process, kept getting my schoolwork done and was also able to manage football,” Taylor said about why he thought he was recognized.
Taylor played on the junior varsity and varsity football teams at Sherando in various positions, including quarterback, running back and full back.
“Football has helped me stay focused on school and being successful,” Taylor said.
He said Sherando Head Football Coach Bill Hall set goals for him and his teammates to always meet expectations and to know they are a part of something bigger themselves. The coach also stressed getting their work done and being good role models for other students.
Taylor’s coach also taught him an equation to apply to football games, which he applies to his life as well: “Event plus response equals outcome.” Taylor said the equation was helpful, particularly when he was homeless.
When he first became homeless, Taylor said he felt “devastated” and sorry for himself. Then as he began to get good grades, he saw his potential despite the obstacles before him.
“It became a little bit easier as I adapted,” Taylor said.
In June 2017, Taylor and his family moved into a townhouse.
His mother describes her son as determined but a little unsure of himself.
“Everybody else believes in him, he just needs to be able to believe in himself, too,” she said.
She said she’s very proud of him and his accomplishments.
“I’m excited that he was chosen for the VHSL award,” she said. “My biggest concern was to help the first year of college be as stress-free as possible. I think he didn’t think he was actually going to be able to go.”
Hall said this about Taylor in a statement to the VHSL: “In my 23 years of teaching and coaching I’ve never had a student-athlete overcome more. The scholarship would be an investment into a success story... he has earned it one step at a time, day after day.”
In his free time Taylor enjoys playing video games and working out, particularly weight lifting.
When it comes to his future, perhaps the quote Taylor chose for his induction into the National Honor Society sums it up best: “Repeat after me: My current situation is not my final destination.” — Unknown