By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The standout players on one of the most dominant basketball teams in Virginia High School League history included a 6-foot-3 sophomore named Shannon Taylor. But that wasn’t the only sport at which Taylor excelled at Roanoke’s Patrick Henry High School.

He was also a gifted football player whose talents ultimately led him to the NFL. Still, Taylor hasn’t forgotten that legendary PH hoops team. With a lineup that included such stars as Curtis Staples, Tim Basham and Troy Manns, the Patriots went 27-1 and won the Group AAA state title in 1991-92.

“We were tough,” Taylor said. “Seven D-I guys on that team.”

He loved the sport and could have played basketball in college, “but football was the way to go,” Taylor said.

Born and raised in Roanoke, the University of Virginia alumnus still lives in his hometown, and he took over as head football coach at North Cross School after the 2022 season. Before that, he spent more than a decade as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator.

At PH, he starred at quarterback, and Taylor played that position during a postgraduate year at Fork Union Military Academy. He  signed with UVA and arrived on Grounds in 1995 expecting to remain on offense. But the Cavaliers were well-stocked at quarterback, with Mike Groh, Aaron Brooks, Tim Sherman and Wayne Lineburg, and Taylor found himself buried on the depth chart. But his athleticism didn’t escape the coaching staff’s notice.

After Taylor made a spectacular catch during a drill at practice one day, head coach George Welsh summoned him for a meeting. Welsh raised the possibility of a position change, but Taylor wasn’t ready give up on his dream of playing quarterback for the Wahoos, and so he redshirted in 1995.

At Patrick Henry, he rarely played defense, but that’s where he eventually found a home at UVA. Taylor remembers sitting in on a meeting with the Cavaliers’ linebackers, who included James Farrior, Jamie Sharper and Wali Rainer, and that piqued his interest.

“I said, ‘Man, I could be a part of this group right here. They look like me. They’ve got great size, they can run, they’re having fun,’ ” Taylor recalled. “I decided to go sit in their room one more time and they recruited me, and it was history after that. I went and played linebacker, and it was a great time.”

He had to wait his turn at Virginia, whose defense included multiple future NFL players.  In ’96, he played special teams and backed up Sharper and Farrior at outside linebacker. In ‘97, he was in a three-man rotation at defensive end with Patrick Kerney and Travis Griffith.

“If that was a situation happening now,” Taylor said, “there could have been an opportunity for me to jump into the portal and leave and try to get my career started early, but I didn’t. I wanted to be at Virginia. I enjoyed it. My teammates were awesome, the coaching staff was great, and I’m just blessed.”

Shannon Taylor (9)

Taylor learned hard lessons at the University. He was placed on academic suspension in 1998 and missed that season.

“I didn’t lock in like I needed to,” Taylor said. “Virginia’s a beautiful place, and I didn’t take advantage of the resources that were there for me. But it was a part of my story, and it made me who I was my senior year.”

Without Taylor, the Hoos finished 9-3 in 1998. UVA climbed to No. 7 in polls before losing to Georgia Tech that fall. Virginia finished the season ranked No. 13 nationally but could have done even better, Taylor believes.

“I really felt like I was the missing piece that year,” he said, “rushing the quarterback, playing in coverage, doing some of those things. I think I was the piece that we needed to kind of get over the hump, and I have nightmares all the time about that particular year.”

Shannon Taylor (9)

Taylor did his best to turn a negative into a positive. His academic suspension “lit a fire under me,” he said. Buoyed by his teammates’ support—“They loved on me, they kept me in the loop of what was going on, they didn’t ostracize me or anything like that,” he said—Taylor worked out at 5:30 every morning with the strength and conditioning staff “to prove to the [coaches[ that this was what I wanted to do.”

Back in good academic standing, he earned a starting job at outside linebacker during training camp in 1999 and followed with that a breakout season. Taylor led the Hoos in tackles in ’99. He recorded a team-high 15 tackles for loss, including six sacks, and made the All-ACC second team.

In 2000, the San Diego Chargers selected Taylor in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Later that spring, he graduated from UVA with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.

Other African-Americans have encountered racial animosity at UVA, Taylor knows, but he said he didn’t experience that on Grounds or in Charlottesville.

“I was so young and naive that I really didn’t see any biases or anything like that towards myself or my teammates,” said Taylor, who minored in psychology.

Those were heady years for the Cavalier football program, and “we had support by the student body and support by the professors at the school,” Taylor said. “My experience there was amazing. I travel back there probably once or twice a month now.”

Taylor has strong ties to UVA linebackers James Jackson and Kam Robinson. Taylor was North Cross’ defensive coordinator when Jackson played there, and they’re still close. Taylor mentors Robinson, who was a true freshman last season, in the Cavalier Circle program established by Virginia head coach Tony Elliott.

“I talk to Kam about getting to know the other student-athletes,” Taylor said. “At that particular time, we didn’t do that. We didn’t go to soccer games, and they were winning national championships. I want to go back and experience that now to this day.

“We had the McCue Center and we used to mix and mingle from time to time, more so with the men’s basketball team and the women’s basketball team, but I tell Kam to go to those soccer games, go to those volleyball games, immerse yourself in other aspects of the University. Meet somebody outside of athletics. Create a relationship. Start communicating now. Those are gonna be your CEOs. They’re gonna be running businesses and doing those sort of things. We’re not going to play football forever. So I wish I would have done a little bit more outside of athletics and the McCue Center.”

Shannon Taylor at North Cross

Taylor, 49, spent four seasons in the NFL, with the Chargers, the Ravens and the Jaguars, and appeared in 40 games.

“I really found out quickly that it was a business,” Taylor said.

After hurting his shoulder during his rookie season with San Diego, he tried to play through the injury and ended up getting released. But he landed in Baltimore, “and I went from worst to first,” Taylor said.

The Ravens entered the 2001 season as reigning Super Bowl champions. The Chargers had finished 1-15 in 2000, “so there was a lot of turmoil and toxicity in San Diego at that particular time,” Taylor recalled.

The 2004 season was his last in the NFL, after which Taylor had to choose his next career move. When they played together at UVA, fellow linebacker Wali Rainer “told me during one practice, ‘You’re going to be a coach when you finish playing ball,’ ” Taylor said. “And I said, ‘No, I ain’t gonna be no coach.’ But I had that quarterback mentality in me. I liked getting people lined up and motivating them.”

Back in Roanoke, he started coaching a youth football team in the Inner City Athletic Association program. Taylor and his wife, Bridgette, have three children: daughter Ataijah and sons Amare and Sean. And as Ataijah, who went on to play at Wake Forest, grew serious about basketball, Taylor began coaching her AAU teams.

In 2010, Taylor started working at North Cross, where he’s coached girls basketball, boys basketball, track & field and football. In his first season as head football coach, Taylor guided North Cross to its second straight Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state title.

He taught at North Cross for seven years but now works outside the school, counseling adults and helping them with anger management, conflict resolution, budgeting, cooking, cleaning, and other skills necessary for independent living: “Doing what I can to improve our society,” Taylor said.

He’s been impressed with Elliott and the Cavaliers’ coaching staff. The college game has changed dramatically in recent years, with the emergence of NIL opportunities and the transfer portal. But Taylor said he believes the Hoos are recruiting players “who understand that there’s life after football. And I think that Coach Elliott and his staff are doing a great job of building that roster and staying in state. They’re all up and down Virginia, trying to find guys. They’re very visible, and I hope our alumni across the country are doing their part as well in helping promote the University of Virginia and show what a great school it is.”

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