By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 28 -- On the football field, Demetrius Taylor wears shoulder pads and a helmet with a VT logo. In his future occupation, his equipment might consist of a handgun and an FBI badge.
Taylor is a defensive tackle at Virginia Tech. But unlike his teammates who dream of NFL careers or jobs in the private sector when they leave Blacksburg, Taylor wants to work as either an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or as an officer with the Federal Air Marshal Service.
Taylor was inspired to go into law enforcement after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech and has taken steps toward accomplishing that goal. He has earned a degree in sociology with a concentration in crime and deviance (he is now working toward a psychology degree) and has completed a summer internship with the New Jersey State Police.
"Playing football your whole life, you get accustomed to the lifestyle of having something to do all the time," Taylor said. "Not just sitting behind a desk but actually being active with your time. I felt like either being an FBI agent or an air marshal would allow me to do that after football."
For now, though, it is all about football. Taylor, a fifth-year senior, made his first career start Saturday in the Hokies' 31-7 win over Miami. Playing in place of John Graves, who sprained his right ankle against Nebraska on Sept. 19, Taylor made one tackle as Virginia Tech stifled Miami's potent offense and harassed quarterback Jacory Harris with blitzes.
Incidentally, Graves also has aspirations of working in law enforcement, perhaps for the FBI. Taylor said they have joked that "five or 10 years down the road, we're going to be partners."
Charley Wiles, the Hokies' defensive line coach, said Graves and Taylor would fit in as members of a law-enforcement unit because they are "two team-oriented guys. They're not 'me' guys. They want to do what's right for the team."
For Taylor, he said his career path was something that "runs in the veins." Both of Taylor's grandfathers served during the Vietnam War. Taylor's father, Demetrius Sr., was a 21-year Navy veteran as a medical services provider.
"I always shared with him what it meant to me to take care of the patients and treat them," Demetrius Sr., who served in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, said in a telephone interview. "That was instilled in Demetrius as far as helping out and serving the country."
But Taylor's biggest motivation to go into law enforcement came on April 16, 2007, when a Virginia Tech student fatally shot 32 people and himself in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
On that day, Taylor said, he sat in a building nearby Norris Hall, where 30 people were killed. From his classroom, Taylor saw students running from the nearby building as a unit of police officers entered.
"They were running for their lives, and I've never seen anything like that," Taylor said. "But seeing the cops rush in, just to see that kind of courage and that kind of camaraderie among the officers, that's what I go through now in football, to a lesser degree."
There have been former Virginia Tech football players who went into law enforcement. Perhaps the most notable is Todd Meade, a letterman on the offensive line from 1989 to 1991 who now works for the Secret Service.
Lt. Robert Catullo of the New Jersey State Police, who worked with Taylor during an internship last summer, said there was a correlation between football and police work.
"If you talk about the SWAT team, it's choreographed," Catullo said in a telephone interview. "What's the dwelling? How are we going in? What method are we going to use? There's a lot of times we're making up a game plan. The camaraderie is always there. It's kind of like going out on the football field; you expect the person next to you to do their job."
Taylor worked at the New Jersey State Police Troop B headquarters. The station, based in Totowa, serves the northern part of the state in handling accident investigations, drunken driving reports and evaluations of police chases.
Although much of what Taylor did was gofer work, he had learning experiences. He was taught the basics of investigating a car accident by looking at scratch marks on the vehicle, how it rolled or how the windshield was broken in. He also watched as SWAT teams practiced entering buildings and repelling from helicopters at a training facility.
"He was a good kid," Catullo said, "and never complained no matter what he had to do."
Before pursuing a second degree, Taylor specialized his academic focus. As part of his concentration for his sociology major, he could take classes such as deviant behavior (sociology 2404), criminology (sociology 3414) or juvenile delinquency (sociology 3424).
Now, Taylor said, he is preparing his application to become an air marshal and has also been in touch with some people he knows at the FBI. If accepted to either, he expects to go through a training program somewhere in the country. But after Virginia Tech, he said, the next step is still somewhat uncertain in this particularly unique line of work.
"As far as preparing yourself, you can't really prepare," Taylor said. "There's a lot in the FBI that the general public doesn't know about."