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Wolverine legend talks about his life, struggles

Nicholas Williams/Daily
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By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 17, 2013

On Saturday afternoon, about 100 undergraduate students and University employees gathered in Couzens Residence Hall for the Student Housing Leadership Conference featuring speeches from University administrators and Michigan football legend Billy Taylor.

E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president of student affairs, presented the “Connecting the Dots” theme of the conference, referencing the future implications of present decisions.

Harper went on to introduce Taylor, followed by a preview for “Perseverance,” a movie biography about his life and battle with alcoholism. Following the film, Taylor explained how these experiences helped mold him into who he is today.

Taylor was a football legend at Michigan, as the All Time U of M record holder for average rushing yards per game at 102 yards, a three-time All-American Running Back and Michigan’s MVP in 1971, according to his website.

However, his life went on a downward spiral on Jan. 4, 1972. Just a few days after his final game as a Wolverine, his mother passed away from a heart attack.

“All I could do was cry,” Taylor said. “It really knocked me down.”

Taylor said he sunk into depression, but attended the Atlanta Falcon’s training camp “figuring I could earn some money.” Shortly after camp began, his uncle murdered his aunt and then killed himself. To make matters worse, his girlfriend was stabbed to death outside of a roller rink in Detroit.

This combination of tragedies further depressed Taylor and he ended up homeless in Detroit struggling with alcoholism. He served two and a half years in federal prison after being charged with having prior knowledge of a bank robbery.

Michigan coach Bo Schembechler helped Taylor earn a master’s degree from the University before he was released from prison in 1977.

While still homeless in 1997, Taylor said faith inspired him to turn his life around. In May 2003, he earned his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In 2009 he opened a residential substance abuse treatment facility in Detroit.

“This August 17 will be 16 years since I had a drink, drug or cigarette.” Taylor said.

Taylor tied his life experience to the theme of the conference, and told attendees and upcoming leaders how important the connections and decisions they make now are for their futures.

The conference then split up into small groups of 10 to 15 people to have more focused discussions. Topics of conversation included strategies for resume writing, how to deal with conflict in the workplace and how to apply leadership skills throughout the many facets of life.

One presentation given by Amir Baghdadchi, the University Housing’s assistant director of communications, titled “How to Sell Out: Shameless Corporate Advertising and the Art of Gaining an Unfair Advantage,” related product ads to ways in which job applicants should advertise themselves in their applications.

Baghdadchi cautioned job-seekers that there’s always someone more qualified for any given job, but there are always ways to beat out the competition.

He suggested focusing on a single strength rather than listing a myriad of talents and experiences.

“Resumes with more bullets than have been fired in any war” are not necessarily the most effective in capturing an employer’s attention, Baghdadchi said.

LSA junior Tyler Mesman said he attended the conference in order to prepare for his job as a residential adviser next year.

“I wanted to apply leadership skills to my job as an RA and my work in student government,” Mesman said.

Engineering sophomore Austin Hamilton attended for similar reasons. He is also a member of Stockwell Residence Hall’s program board, which sponsored the event.

“This is different than any leadership conference (I’ve been to), which I love,” Hamilton said.

Correction appended: Due to an error in the University directory, a previous version of this article misidentified the class standing of Austin Hamilton.