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Doing the right thing

IU football's Taysir Mack strives to be different in Bloomington



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Redshirt freshman wide receiver Taysir Mack salutes the sky after scoring the game's first touchdown for IU against Charleston Southern on Oct. 7. Mack has become a consistent presence at wide receiver for IU this season after injuries to three other wide receivers.  Ty Vinson Buy Photos

The celebrations were the same.

Following each of Taysir Mack’s two touchdowns against Charleston Southern on Oct. 7, the IU redshirt freshman wide receiver smacked his chest twice, kissed his fist and pointed to the sky.

It was a message meant for the heavens and a reminder of the reality Mack left behind when he came to Bloomington from Brooklyn, New York, one year ago. 


***

Darren Harrison was shot and killed just after 5 p.m. Feb. 5, 2017, at East 84th Street in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. The victim of a double shooting, Harrison, 22, was shot in the head and pronounced dead at the scene.

Harrison and Mack were friends.

“That’s why when I scored I put my hand up in the air,” Mack said. “Just to let my bro know I’m living out the dream he wanted me to.”

A one-time Rutgers University commit, Mack opted to come to IU at the last possible moment on National Signing Day in February 2016. He said Harrison was one of his friends who had a major influence on his decision to switch.

“He didn’t want me to stay close to home,” Mack said. “Before, I was committed to Rutgers, but he told me ‘no, go away to school, do something different, be somebody who’s going to stay on the path.’”

Mack was born in Staten Island, New York, but moved to Canarsie in Brooklyn when he was 1. 

He lived in a gated community in Brooklyn, but said that only a couple blocks away, life was rougher for those growing up in the New York borough.

“I had a couple of friends that chose different paths than I did,” Mack said. “But I realized that if people chose different paths, you just have to distance yourself and realize not everything is for you.”

Harrison was one of those friends.

“He told me the life he was living wasn’t for everybody,” Mack said. “It’s something that stayed with me. That’s why I keep trying to work hard, just to let everybody know, my family and friends back home, that I’m going to make them proud. I’m gonna try my hardest.” 

***

By the end of Mack’s 2015 senior season at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, he was attracting national attention. He was named an all-state selection and the All-Brooklyn Player of the Year after helping Grand Street to its first Public School Athletic League city championship.

IU, Penn State and Vanderbilt all extended scholarship offers his way, in additional to a plethora of northeastern FBS programs. 

On his official visit to IU in January 2016, he was guided by then-sophomore wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. 

“He showed what life could be like playing receiver at Indiana,” Mack said.

Fast-forward 18 months, and Mack now lives with Cobbs and senior quarterback Richard Lagow.

“It’s fun," Cobbs said. "We bully each other a lot. I feel like him being from New York, he has this little persona where he’s all loud and about and talking all the time. So sometimes his mouth gets him in trouble in the house.”

The trio spends its time together watching “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and eating at Buffalo Wild Wings.

“Taysir hates when me and Rich like to have 'SVU' marathons and just sit there and watch it for hours,” Cobbs said. “Sometimes we bully him into watching, or we take turns playing Madden. It’s fun times. You get to see the true personalities.” 

The fun times have continued on the field for the three players recently. The Nov. 11 victory at Illinois saw Mack lead IU with six receptions, while Cobbs caught his team-leading seventh touchdown of the season and Lagow posted nearly 300 passing yards.

Even when freshman Peyton Ramsey was the starting quarterback for IU for four games in the middle of the 2017 season, Mack had a strong connection with IU’s signal-caller.

Both Mack and Ramsey redshirted the 2016 season, which meant they spent a lot of time together as part of the Hoosiers’ scout team.

“We got to really know each other,” Mack said. “I got to know his strength points. Just building that chemistry.” 

Having a relationship with both of IU’s starting quarterbacks has allowed Mack to flourish this season. 

His 111-yard receiving day against Charleston Southern was the first time since 2008 an IU freshman had more than 100 yards receiving.

The speedy wideout is second among IU freshmen in receptions, and is also tied with Whop Philyor for the lead in freshmen receiving touchdowns with two.

“He’s one of our faster players on the whole team and really encouraged by his progress,” IU Coach Tom Allen said. “He’s a guy I identified through fall camp that I really thought had done some good things in the spring, had a good summer, did some good things in fall camp.”

Season-ending injuries to juniors Donavan Hale, J-Shun Harris II and Nick Westbrook have allowed Mack to receive more playing time than previously expected.

“I challenged Taysir to rise up,” Allen said. “We had some injuries at that position and so that’s what freshmen are supposed to do. He responded.” 

***

Mack said he came to Bloomington to find peace. 

“Coming from the city, sometimes you just want to step away from everything that is going on,” Mack said. “This is a place where I can focus. People come to college for different aspects. I came to college to be about business.”

The 19-year-old grew up in a single-parent household with his mother, Monique, as well as an older and a younger sister.

He said his family has served as a support system for him throughout his playing career, even while he redshirted the 2016 season.

“Everybody from back home knew what I was capable of,” Mack said. “You hear those athletes that are ‘he could’ve been or he should’ve been,’ my mom promised me to just live in the moment and become something bigger than just a New York kid.” 

Mack calls home each day after practice. He speaks with his mother, his grandmother and his little sister.

“My little sister is my heart,” Mack said. “She’s the first tattoo I got on my arm.”

By halftime of the Charleston Southern game, Mack had scored his first two collegiate touchdowns. It was Monique’s turn to give him a call. 

Several calls, actually.

Before the coaches filled the IU locker room, Mack quickly called his mother back.

“I was like ‘Ma, I can’t talk right now,’” Mack said. “They (my family) recorded my first touchdown. It was up on the internet before I even knew it.”

Daily phone calls between Mack and his family help bridge the nearly 800 miles separating them. The scholarship offer from Rutgers was the first one Mack received, and he said he planned on staying close to home so his family could see him play. 

Then things changed.

Kyle Flood was fired as head coach of the Scarlet Knights in November 2015, and while Mack mulled his options, he said then-IU Coach Kevin Wilson grabbed his attention. 

This left Mack with a decision to make, and he went against his prior commitment by signing with IU. 

“I never just was a follower,” Mack said. “I was ready to do something different and football was my calling. It’s time for me to choose my own path and make my family proud.” 

His college choice was different than expected, but that isn’t unusual for Mack, someone who embraces the chance to be different.

“It’s OK to have a different mindset,” Mack said. “That’s something that stuck with me growing up in Brooklyn, because I have a lot of friends that I lost, and it still hurts to this day, but I know that they want me to do the right thing.”

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