Mean Season

Page 7 of 10

For someone who appears so driven toward football excellence, Taylor downplays his coaching work at the Boys Ranch.

"Coaching these guys, I wouldn't really call it coaching," he says. "It's more like therapy work."

Taylor should know, because he worked for several years as a recreation specialist in a psych hospital in Cerritos, California. His job at the hospital prepared him for the Boys Ranch, where he often supervises manual-labor projects. He proudly notes that residents not only maintain the facility's lawns, but also helped with the construction of the football stadium and basketball gym.

He came to the Boys Ranch in 1995 to visit a friend, and decided to interview for a job. After being hired as a work specialist, he was also asked to coach, but he chose to wait a year, because he didn't feel familiar enough with the Boys Ranch environment.

While his locker-room rants often have the look of unbridled rage, Taylor suggests that most of his tactics are carefully calculated.

"You've got to see who reacts to each situation," he says. "As long as you're not being so negative to someone that you'll shut them down, and that's what's working for you, that's my philosophy: a higher intensity, raise the tone, over and over real quick. Then if someone's not picking it up, you don't totally single that person out to where you're going to decimate the kid."

He suggests that his red-faced intensity is sometimes directed at himself, as a way of keeping his own energy level up.

"[The kids] see me biting my lip, jumping up and down, pulling out my hair, but none of them have seen me just fold the tent," he says. "We, the coaches, get heated amongst ourselves. But the players recognize it as a passion for the game. We can't let them see us get dejected."

On a team devoid of fundamental skills, William Naydol stands out as a real football player. He's not a particularly swift runner, but he consistently shows amazing toughness, carrying defensive linemen on his back for every extra yard he can manage. And even when he gets banged up, as he often does, he seems able to will himself into staying on the field.

Naydol grew up in Monticello, Indiana, the youngest of four children. His parents are divorced and he was raised by his mother, who works at a nursing home. He played football in fifth and sixth grades and played free safety on the junior-varsity level in Indiana before being kicked off the team "for failing a urine test."

He came to the Boys Ranch on December 15, 1997, after getting into trouble for a series of probation violations. He says he committed several thefts and was caught breaking into liquor stores.

Like many Boys Ranch residents, he's uncomfortable talking about his past. He explains his misadventures in Indiana by saying, "I stopped listening to my parents, that's when things got bad. I wasn't going home at all. I was staying at friends' houses and partying all the time."

Also, like other residents, Naydol admits that he hated the idea of coming to the Boys Ranch. He ran away twice, most spectacularly last December, when he left the facility and scampered all the way to Sky Harbor Airport, a good 30-mile trek.

"I just ran there, I don't know why," he says. "I called my mom, and she told me that my probation officer said for me to turn myself in."

Naydol was put into reorientation and given a yellow shirt to wear. Residents who've gotten into trouble wear yellow shirts and are put on work detail all day, until they've worked themselves off with good behavior.

Naydol says his attitude toward the Ranch changed about nine months ago. "I started thinking ahead, I guess," he says. He now talks about staying in the Valley after he leaves the Boys Ranch, possibly to attend junior college

It's a sentiment echoed by split end/punter Manuel Rivas. One of the few remaining Boys Ranch residents from California, Rivas is from east Los Angeles, where he says he was involved with a gang called Primero Flats.

Rivas speaks softly, with a thick accent. He rarely lifts his head to make eye contact. He came to the Boys Ranch two-and-a-half years ago after getting into a series of fights, being busted for possession of marijuana and being caught in possession of a gun. He says he was given the choice of going to jail for 18 months or attending the Boys Ranch.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia