Widener's Montrell Hicks-Taylor puts safety first

For many, it’s tough enough being a college student and an athlete. Widener’s Montrell Hicks-Taylor has taken that a giant step farther. Except he’s about the only one who doesn’t think it’s such a noteworthy deal. In his mind, he’s only doing what he had to do to get what he wanted, which was a graduate degree in criminal justice.

A fifth-year senior, he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in May 2015. The explosive wide receiver had two seasons of eligibility remaining. He just didn’t want to take out more loans or lean on his family to help him pay more tuition bills. So he took a job, but not just any job. He became one of the university’s 59 full-time campus safety officers. That means he puts in an eight-hour shift, usually 8 a.m.-4 p.m. His work schedule is six days on and two days off.

Among the benefits that Widener offers such staffers is tuition remission, after a required waiting period, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the work schedule.

The guidelines don’t stipulate anything about practices or games.

“I heard they were hiring, so that’s the route I took,” said Hicks-Taylor, who has 29 catches this season for 665 yards and six touchdowns (all 35 yards or longer) for a 5-2 team that’s 10 points from being unbeaten. “I really wanted to play some more. And I really wanted to take the classes I needed to take.”

Hicks-Taylor, who sat out the 2013 season with a knee injury, did not play in 2015, while his work situation got sorted out. The year before, he scored seven TDs for a 12-1 team that reached the Division III quarterfinals.

A product of Caravel Academy in Newark, Del., where he was a running back, he went to FCS North Carolina A&T. When that didn’t work out, he transferred closer to home.

His uncle, Ollie Taylor, was a coach for the Pride at the time. A half-brother, Vaughn Taylor-Nichols, is a former Widener defensive back who’s now on coach Mike Kelly’s staff after he’s done working at the Glen Mills School.

“I guess I haven’t taken the normal path,” Hicks-Taylor said. “But it’s worked for me. Coach Kelly pretty much helps me with everything, since he knows what I’m going through. It’s not bad. It kind of works itself out. It gets tiresome at times, but I push through. It saves me a lot of money, so it’s been a blessing.

“I can’t take a full class load. But I’m managing. I hope to be done in another year. The thing about it is, I’m always doing something. That’s my life. But I know I’m going to have a better chance down the road because of all this.

“That’s what college is supposed to be there for.”

He doesn’t have to convince Kelly, who sounds like his biggest supporter.

“This is going to serve him well,” Kelly said. “This is a once-in-a-generation kid. If you’re daughter brought him home, you’d say I raised my daughter correctly. I call him an old soul, because he’s a little more mature than a normal senior. There’s not a lot of kids who have his type of self-determination and self-confidence and is willing to pay the price he’s paying. He’s been a great example for our younger kids, when they see gramps in the locker room.

“He’ll come into meetings with his uniform on, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I feel safer now.’ When I see him driving around in a patrol car, what I feel is pride. To have a kid who wants to be in our program that badly, and is willing to sacrifice like that. … sometimes he’s on shift from midnight til 8 in the morning … . I know there’s an inherent love of the game, but you have to have a love of the program too.

“He really gets it,” Kelly said. “What he doesn’t get is any free time. There’s just none. I need that, and I’m 59. But he’s just so goal-oriented right now. He said he might want to be a coach. That’s just being crazy. But you know what? He’d be a good one.”

Hicks-Taylor is the second-oldest of four children, and the oldest boy. He would like to use his education to pursue a career in law enforcement, perhaps even with the FBI.

“Football’s my first love, so if there was a chance for me to [be a coach], I’d have to look at it,” said Hicks-Taylor, who also played baseball and ran track in high school. “But I think being a police officer is just interesting, whether you’re in the field or behind a desk. The investigative part of it is a real challenge. I don’t plan on working in a huge city. Maybe something where the crime rate is different. But you never know.”

Until then, he’ll continue trying to keep the campus safe from whatever, which could mean anything from walking around or standing guard as the security person at the gym’s wellness center. It’s all part of his commitment to himself and others.

“Sometimes, you’re just making sure there’s no unwelcome guests, or stragglers coming in,” said Hicks-Taylor who’s earned Middle Atlantic Conference all-academic and all-sportsmanship honors. “Anybody that needs help, you’re the one who’s there for them. When the guys from the team see me, it’s like a surprise. I think some of them are still confused, especially the new guys. They’re going, ‘Wait, doesn’t he play football?’ They wonder how I do it. But, by now, most of them are pretty used to it.

“I might not be able to play football after this, so I plan on giving it my all,” Hicks-Taylor said. “Every chance I get to make a huge play, I don’t want to look back and say I regretted anything. I want to give everything to the sport and the team. It’s a wonderful feeling. And if I can make other people feel better about making their way around school, that’s pretty good, too.”