(WJBK) - Being homeless on the streets of Detroit is certainly not the way you'd think life would turn out for the University of Michigan's eighth all-time leading rusher, Billy Taylor.
"It was terrible. There's nothing glorious about being homeless on the sreets of Detroit," he says. "I had a great career at Michigan, three time All American, three time first team All Big Ten, MVP my senior year, two Big Ten championships, undefeadeted my senior year."
During that senior year at UofM, though, Taylor's mother died. He was drafted by the Falcons but shortly after, his uncle killed his aunt and then himself in a murder-suicide. Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, his girlfriend Valerie was murdered outside of a roller rink in Belleville. The stunning string of tragedies sent Taylor into a spiral of drinking, drugs and depression.
"After that my whole life just fell apart," he says.
By the age of 26, Taylor was a convicted felon. But, he earned his mater's degree in prison and got a job when he was released. Things were good for a while.
He got married and had three children. But in 1980, he got laid off, became depressed and once again turned to drugs and alcohol .
"I wound up homeless on the streets of Detroit for the last two years of my addiction," he says. "I had lost the wife, the house, the car, the jobs, self respect. And so you walk around dirty, you know, and hungry." Taylor spent two and a half years on the streets of one the toughest cities in the country. But on August 17, 1997 everything changed.
"I heard a voice one morning, just as clear as we're talking and it was four words, 'William Taylor come forth,'" he remembers. "Over the next six hours, a kind lady by the name of Cheryl Carson offered me a job as a direct care worker in foster care. So, within six hours, I had a job; I had a place to live."
Taylor worked for Carson for just about a year and then moved to Las Vegas, where he earned his doctorate at UNLV. After several years working in education and for the Salvation Army, Taylor decided it was time to start giving back.
"I feel like I'm doing God's work. It's almost like tithing every day," he says.
The former football standout who twice fell deep into the pit of alcoholism now runs Get Back Up Inc., a residential outpatient substance abuse treatment and prevention facility. He has not had a drink in 17 years.
"We're here to help people become taxpayers instead of takers. We're here to help men get back to their families, be husbands, be fathers," he says.
The Get Back Up building in the 12 thousand block of Dexter in Detroit looks more like a shrine to University of Michigan football than it does a treatment facility. It's adorned in maize and blue and filled with pictures of his coach and mentor Bo Schembeckler.
"There's two people I think about everyday. It's Bo and my mom. Yeah, he had that big of an impression on me, and not just me - but hundreds of other guys that's played for him."
Today Dr. Billy Taylor is making an impression on men going through the hell he knows very well.
"It's how I used to be, and I know how good life can be if you are clean and sober," he asys.
Dr. Taylor says he hopes his story will inspire others to get back up when life knocks them down and they feel it would be easier to quit.
You can find more information about Get Back Up, Inc. at www.btgetbackup.com.