One-time national lacrosse prospect has a new priority
Typically when a college athlete quits his team, it’s because he isn’t getting enough playing time or he doesn’t like the coach. Dave Taylor, A04, has a different reason.
An all-star on the nationally ranked Jumbo lacrosse team, Taylor left the team in March after learning that his summer plans had changed. A member of the U.S. Army’s ROTC MIT/Tufts Battalion, Taylor will be commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 23, the day he receives his international relations degree from Tufts.
He then will report for active duty, beginning with 16 weeks at Fort Benning, Ga. The nine-week Army Ranger Course—regarded as the most difficult in the military—will follow. By 2005, he will be stationed overseas as a platoon leader of 30 to 40 soldiers.
News of his early-June report date came as a jaw-dropping surprise. Taylor had studied at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, during the 2000–02 academic years. He intended to go back to Shanghai to work for a law firm before beginning his military commitment in 2005, as he had requested. A change in Army policy required that he start his commitment immediately.
Taylor had no choice but to stop playing lacrosse to get ready for military service. “Having to turn my back on the [lacrosse team] guys killed me inside,” he said.
Taylor was such a lacrosse junkie while playing at the Landon School in Bethesda, Md., that he would drive 12 hours round-trip to attend major college games. “The U.S. Army doesn’t care if I’m a lacrosse all-star,” he said. “I can’t just show up. If I’m not physically and mentally prepared, I’ll get killed at these camps.”
He was extremely excited by the Jumbos’ potential this spring after the team set a school record for wins and played in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championship game last year. He scored 28 goals, with 22 assists for 50 points, and was selected All-New England honorable mention in 2003.
Beyond the competitive success, Taylor found a great fit at Tufts. Coming out of high school in 1999, he had been one of the top lacrosse recruits in the country. All the lacrosse powerhouses—Princeton, Johns Hopkins, North Carolina, Duke—wanted him. He chose UNC at Chapel Hill.
However, the time commitment to play Division I lacrosse compromised his other interests. He also joined UNC’s ROTC program and was missing important Thursday practices because of that obligation. By the end of his freshman year, it was obvious he needed to make a change.
Taylor explored options for studying abroad. For the next two years, he studied, worked a variety of jobs and traveled in the Far East. He became fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
“China replaced my passion for lacrosse,” he said. “It’s the land of opportunity, like the U.S. was at the turn of the 20th century. It’s developing so rapidly. China is my future.”
When he considered returning to college in the States, his interest in international affairs led him to Tufts. Taylor also thought that playing for a competitive, small college lacrosse team better suited his needs. “There was a certain element of luck involved, but we worked hard to make it all come to fruition,” Tufts’ lacrosse coach Mike Daly said about landing a player of Taylor’s ability.
Taylor found the balance between academics, lacrosse and ROTC at Tufts. The university also afforded him other opportunities, such as the course he taught this semester for the Experimental College on “Special Operations in International Relations.”
The camaraderie on the lacrosse team is what made his decision to leave the team both difficult and easy. “When he said he had to leave, we knew it was probably one of the hardest decisions that he has ever had to make,” said senior tri-captain Tom Mulcahy. “We knew how much he loved this team and how much he loved lacrosse. Knowing that, it was really hard to argue with him. I mean, he was going to fight for our country and our way of life in less than three months, so if he needed to give up lacrosse to get ready for that, then that is what he had to do.”
Ranger School, conducted in the mountains of northern Georgia and in the Florida swamplands, is extremely rigorous. “It’s designed to mimic the harshest conditions of combat,” Taylor said. “I’ve heard that you can expect to lose 40 or 50 pounds because you don’t get fed much. It’ll be absolutely miserable.”
Taylor has requested to be stationed in Korea after he completes his training. However, with the operation in Iraq unlikely to end soon, there’s a possibility that he’ll be deployed there.
“It’s a sense of duty that comes from my family history,” he said. His dad, Joseph Taylor Jr., did two tours in Vietnam. His grandfather, Joseph Taylor Sr., was one of the first military advisors in Vietnam, and his other grandfather, Angelo Lofaso, served in World War II.
“David is a tremendously talented individual,” said Col. Brian Baker, professor of military science at MIT and Taylor’s ROTC commander. “He represents Army values very well…He’s a very mature young man.”
After fulfilling his military commitment, Taylor plans to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs or a degree in international law. Eventually, he wants to work for the U.S. Foreign Service or for an international law firm in China.
The Jumbos have continued on successfully without him. The team was ranked 12th in the nation entering the final week of the regular season. Coach Daly would have loved to have had Taylor as another weapon on attack, but he and the team understand it’s only a game.
“David’s a great kid whose heart is in the right place,”
the coach said. “He’s going to be making decisions that affect
all of us. It goes way beyond lacrosse.”