Mon, 27 Sep 2021

Taylor Moton: A cornerstone for the Panthers, and his family

Carolina Panthers
28 Jul 2021, 21:44 GMT+10

SPARTANBURG - The negotiation might not have been easy for the Panthers, but the decision to embark on it was.

Reaching a point in his life when he could provide stability for himself and his family might not have been simple for him, but their confidence that he would succeed was natural.

As it turns out, Taylor Moton is the kind of guy you can build around.

The Panthers invested in their franchise-tagged right tackle two weeks ago, confident that a guy who plays a non-premium position can be someone who can change the course of a franchise.

Those closest to him have seen him have the same kind of impact.

New deal for Taylor Moton gives the Panthers options Panthers agree to terms with Taylor Moton Taylor Moton talks about his new contract upon arrival to training camp

"He's a cornerstone player for our team," Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said, after giving Moton an $85 million contract.

"That's Taylor's way, he took care of us before he took care of himself," his mother, Sonya Gunnings-Moton, said of his decision to buy her a house so that she could retire near him and closer to her roots.

It's hard to get a handle on Moton sometimes, because he's so incredibly solid. That comes across as unspectacular sometimes. He's not a sound-bite guy, he's never controversial. The jokes he has, he saves for those he knows and trusts.

"Oh, there is absolutely an undercover humor there," his mother said. "If you look up mischievous in the dictionary, there's a picture of Taylor."

That's incongruent with his work persona, because when he talks about his day job, it's a matter-of-fact event. His goal, put simply, is "to be the best Taylor Moton I can be."

As it turns out, that's always been the goal, and that's always been a pretty amazing thing to be.

Before he became an NFL star, Taylor Moton was a young boy in Michigan who had to find his own way, with more obstacles than someone his age should have to experience.

His biological father died when he was 4 years old. His mother remarried when he was 9, and Taylor had to grow up in a hurry. But as it turns out, he formed what his mother called "an unspeakable bond," with her new husband. "There was never any 'step,'" she said.

"This was not our script, but it forced Taylor to man up in ways he wouldn't have chosen to endure, from an emotional standpoint," she said.

As he grew in physical stature, obstacles continued to present themselves.

Growing up in the suburbs in Lansing, Mich., the Spartans were always on his mind. That's not just an athletic consideration, either. His grandfather, the late Dr. Thomas Gunnings, was the first black faculty member in the school's College of Human Medicine, and an assistant dean.

His mother was also on the faculty there, and was associate dean of support services and engagement and an associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education.

And yet, the Spartans never offered him a scholarship, forcing the massive young man to head to Western Michigan. It wasn't his first choice, but he didn't dwell on it. It was simply the next thing to overcome.

"That hurt him, but he didn't dwell on it long," his mother said. "It was disappointing, but he went to Western Michigan, and that became the trajectory that determined his future, and was the best thing that ever happened to him.

"He is strong in mind, body, and spirit. He has grown up in a way that he's always been focused on how to overcome obstacles. He sees the goal, and it's not, 'Can I do it?" it's, "How can I do it?'"

The Panthers see the same thing. When Fitterer was talking about the decision to extend a guy who may or may not play left tackle for them, it was so casual, so obvious, that it almost sounded like something Moton would say. It's not a question of whether they wanted to keep him, it was how could they not?

"Any time you can get a guy like that done, it's great for the team," Fitterer said. "He does everything the right way. He's smart. He works hard. He's intelligent. He's tough.

"Here he is, he's on the franchise tag, and he's out at (voluntary) OTAs every single day. So that's the type of guy you want to pay and get done. We felt really good about it."

When a lot of players reach the kind of riches Moton realized, there's a splurge. But as it turns out, he made his well in advance of the signing bonus.

Over a year ago, he approached his mother about his plan. He wanted to buy her a house in the area, and she happily agreed. Her family is from the Gastonia area (Moton's grandfather was inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame in 2018), and she remembered summers there and many trips to Tony's Ice Cream. So having her son drafted by the nearby team allowed her to reconnect with relatives, and form an even stronger bond here. Being able to stay and build on that bond, that happened in the way you might imagine.

"In his own low-key way, he just said, "Mom, I got you," she recalled. "He made the reality for us to retire here sooner than we had planned on.

"But that's his way."

Eventually, he got around to doing something for himself.

Moton said Tuesday that, well before the extension, he bought a piece of land in the Steele Creek area. (Perhaps not coincidentally, that's conveniently between his current workplace at the corner of Mint and Morehead, and the Panthers' future practice facility in Rock Hill. Always, there seems to be a plan.)

He hasn't started building the house yet, but the blueprints are there.

"Already in the works on that house, so I guess it's not the first big purchase since the extension, but I guess it's close enough," he said. "I bought the land because I got it cheap. Might be a few extra additions to it now."

Of course, things may keep stacking up, including expectations. At the moment, the plan is for him to stay at his natural position, the one he's so good at. But at some point, they may ask him to play left tackle, a more demanding job, one that wouldn't be without its complications.

It might sound like pressure, but he doesn't see it that way, recalling the aphorism: "Pressure is a privilege."

"I took that to heart," Moton said. "I had to step back and understand that quote and realize that I'm in a blessed situation. I learned there's a difference between pressure and stress. Stress is when you go out there and you're not prepared, and you haven't done everything you can to prepare in that moment. But when you have pressure, you've done everything, you put in all the work, up to that moment. At that point, it's just going out and performing and doing what you've been doing.

"You have that confidence, knowing that no one can beat you when you're at your best, but the humbleness that if you're not on your game, anyone can beat you."

When he says it like that, it sounds so simple, and it makes you wonder why everyone doesn't choose that path.

"Football is more of a pressure than a stressor, because of how I prepare for it," he said. "Stress might be stuff outside football, like maybe building this house. The price of lumber is going up, that's stressful at this point."

At this point, lumber prices might be the only thing that can rattle Taylor Moton.

Everything else he's planned for, worked toward, and so far overcome.

That's the way you build, and that's the reason so many people feel so confident building around him.

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