HOOVER, Ala. – Today he is known as Pastor Paul. Back then, when he was playing football for the Georgia Bulldogs, he was known as simply “PT.”
It stands for Paul Taylor but, according to him, it just as easily could have been an acronym for “Party Time.” That’s what time it almost always was when Taylor was playing offensive line for the Bulldogs in the early 1990s. During that period, he said he was the undisputed leader of a group he calls FOOLS, “the fraternal order of offensive linemen.”
Taylor signed with UGA in a 1991 recruiting class filled with big offensive linemen brought in to provide protection for 5-star quarterback Eric Zeier, another signee that year. And they were a group that liked to have a good time, Taylor chief among them.
Taylor said he remembers sitting in Lulu’s Bait Shack, a downtown Athens bar, when he was being recruited by Georgia in December of 1990, and just loving the party scene that surrounded him.
“I decided this is what I’m going to do here,” Taylor said. “I got to Athens that fall and just dove into that lifestyle. I hadn’t been brought up that way, at all. But that started a pattern of abusive drinking. I was going out four or five days a week, even sneaking out the night before games.”
Taylor recounts the time he was in the car with another teammate who got pulled over for DUI one night. Another time he and a teammate ran from cops and actually escaped into the Butts-Mehre Football Complex. Another time he plowed into a Your Cab van full of passengers and left the scene. He eventually got tracked down and went to jail for leaving the scene of an accident. But that was better than the alternative.
“I would’ve gotten a DUI that night but I ran,” he said.
Alas, it would eventually catch up with Taylor. In September of 1993, late the same night the Bulldogs had been humiliated on the field earlier in the day at Tennessee, Taylor’s drinking and driving finally caught up with him. He’d run a flashing red light near Sanford Stadium and got pulled over in the parking lot near McWhorter Hall. He remembers to exact time to this day — 2:37 a.m.
“The next morning, I’m riding bus to class and remember them interrupting the music and talking about it on the radio,” Taylor said. “‘Georgia football player Paul Taylor arrested for DUI… I pulled the chain thing and jumped off the bus and ran a mile back to my dorm. I wanted to call my Mom to tell her before she heard about it on the news. That’s when I got the dreaded, ‘I love you but I’m disappointed in you.’”
Why is Paul Taylor bringing all this up now, 23 years later? He said because he read about what happened to current Georgia football player Jonathan Ledbetter and wants to share what happened to him after that experience two decades ago.
Taylor said the disciplinary policy the Bulldogs face now is very much the same they faced way back then. Basically, it’s a three-strikes-you’re-out proposition. Taylor wasn’t sure whether or not he was going to be kicked off the team. He wasn’t sure when the Bulldogs started counting his misdeeds.
After being ordered to run gassers “’til I puked” that first day back, Taylor was summoned to the office of head coach Ray Goff.
“I thought I was out,” Taylor said. “I went in to see Coach Goff and he said, ‘Coach Dooley wants your scholarship, but he left it up to me.’ Coach Goff said, ‘You need to get your life right with Jesus, Paul.’ Now get your ass out of my office.’”
Taylor would eventually get his life right with Jesus. In the meantime, he had to get over his addictions to alcohol “and other drugs.” He said Georgia helped him do that, through an intensive course of treatment and counseling.
Taylor was suspended for the next two games, then suffered a second-degree concussion his first practice back and had to sit out another four games.
“Basically that whole year was wasted,” Taylor said.
After his treatment, Taylor got involved with Athletes in Action, a Christian-based outreach for athletes. His life was forever changed at a retreat in Helen with that group in December of 1993. Taylor would go on to start at guard for the Bulldogs his final two seasons in Athens.
And now, as he reads the headlines about Ledbetter passing out in his car at an East Athens intersection, Taylor said he was reminded about that time so long ago, when he once seemed such a lost soul. He wants Ledbetter to know that there’s still time to get his act together.
Today, Taylor’s story is the cornerstone of his testimony as lead pastor at Rivers Crossing Community Church in Cincinnati. As the high school ministry leader for 10 years, the lead pastor for these past nine and the administrator of a program called “Celebrate Recovery” at the church, he has told it over and over again.
“I probably share it to 75 or 100 people every month,” said Taylor, who is raising three children with his wife Farrah. “So I don’t shy away from it at all. That’s when I surrendered my life to God and started my spiritual journey. It redefined my life and redefined my purpose.”
Taylor believes the Ledbetter is at a similar crossroads in his life. He said the Bulldogs’ sophomore defensive lineman simply has to make sure he has the right people around him and immerse himself into the support and treatment that UGA is providing for him.
“I pray for Jonathan Ledbetter,” Taylor said. “For a Division I athlete, the pressure to be great and the pressure to be the center of attention and the life of the party is greater than a lot of people realize. I believe 100 percent that I’d be dead in a ditch, that I’d have killed myself if not somebody else, if I hadn’t gotten help when I did.
“So I’ve been there. And I think Ledbetter is in good hands at Georgia. They care about the whole person there.”