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One talk with his nephew was all Skyline head football coach Joe Bates needed.
Bates saw the reviews. He had heard about her on social media. From Vacaville Christian head football coach Manny Tarango. EVerything he heard was glowing.
Then, he talked to his nephew, Antoine Custer, a former star running back at De La Salle who went on to play collegiately at Eastern Washington. Custer told him about Cassie Taylor, an academic advising and teaching extraordinaire who works with numerous organizations and teams across the area – Kenion Training, Vacaville Christian, BT Thompson and others.
Custer was one of the first kids Taylor tutored when he was playing at De La Salle.
“I was talking to him, and he was like, ‘Bro, she’s dope. She’s dope. You’ve got to get her in there. You’ve got to get her. She saved my life damn near academically.’”
Right there, it became even more clear-cut to Bates: He needed to add Taylor to Skyline’s Living The Dream program.
The budget was growing to bring more assistants onto the program, so it was set and the news was announced of Taylor addition.
“I definitely wanted to see if we can squeeze her into our agenda and our program, and she was definitely willing and able,” Bates said. “We’re excited about that.”
These moments describe the impact Taylor has made on countless students, programs and teams throughout her entire career.
Taylor always knew she wanted to work in education since she was in second grade. She was in a program called Upward Bound, which is a college prep income for low income, first generation students.
For a few years after high school, Taylor worked with Upward Bound and fell in love with it, finding her passion and knowing she wanted to work with high school students someday.
“I kind of fell in love with making sure the kids that don’t have the most opportunities, I wanted to make sure that the kids that don’t have the opportunities currently because of their socioeconomic status can get those opportunities,” Taylor said.
Through her work with numerous organizations, the impacts are felt everywhere. Just ask Tarango.
Vacaville Christian underwent a renaissance on the football field under Tarango’s leadership, going from one win in 2018 to seven wins and a section semifinals appearance in 2019. Multiple players are collegiate prospects.
But that only tells a small tale all of the success the Falcons have experienced.
There are two things Tarango says that are “complete game changers” for their student-athletes’ lives. Not just in football, but for life well after football and sports.
A main reason: Taylor.
“She is probably, and we try to do everything in our power to let her know this every day, she makes us elite,” Tarango said. “It’s not about Xs and Os. It’s not about the 415 pound deadlift and all that kind of stuff as coaches we try to help do. That’s part of it. She is that glue that is going to change these young men’s lives and significantly impact it for years to come because when we took over, we implemented a study hall, and they were like, ‘I’ve been at school all day. What do you mean I’ve got to come in here and do a study hall for an hour? What? Why? Was football.’
“No. We have work to still do, and we’re going to take care of your academics and we’re going to follow your progression every single week and we’re going to have a GPA of the week and all that kind of stuff.”
As soon as VCS did those small things, everything really took off from there.
Tarango said they went from 2.5 GPAs to 3.0 and 3.1 GPA. There are players with 3.85s, 3.92s and 4.2s.
Simply put, Taylor knows exactly what she’s doing. Her work with Kenion Training, Mori Suesue at MLUYFI, TMP and everywhere else speaks for itself.
“She knows who’s doing what, who’s got those businesses, who’s got those internships, who’s got maybe those smaller schools that have a special parks and recreation program, and Wyoming, seeing that she’s from Casper, Wyoming, she went to Utah,” Tarango said. “Those smaller areas that not too many people talk about, she’s got ins there.”
Where Taylor also helps kids is understanding where they might be a perfect fit.
You don’t have to be a five-star heading to the University of Alabama. You don’t need to play in the SEC to be successful.
Find where you fit in. Find a place that will guide you to long-term success, whether that’s in the sports realm or another career venture.
“She is helping our kids understand that you might not be a top football player or you’re going to go to the University of Oklahoma to do whatever for athletics, but here’s how I’m going to guide you academically and this is what you like to do, and here’s the schools and here’s the people I know at those schools and admissions or whatever that I can help guide you to these programs because we’re looking at setting you up for the next 40 years of your life,” Tarango said. “She makes us elite from that standpoint because now we’re talking about getting you ready for life after football and we’re talking about it with 14, 15, 16 year olds and stuff.”
Taylor’s impact certainly goes beyond the academics, too.
She’s been through adversity. She can tell her own stories to those who are struggling. She’s been there. She knows what it’s like to be at a low point.
While at the University of Utah, where Taylor was a linguistics major, she was diagnosed with depression.
“I remember calling my dad one night, and he lived in Colorado, and I said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, dad,’” Taylor said. “And he said, ‘I think you should come home.’ And so it was the end of my junior year. My grades were, I’ve always been a stellar student, and this was very indicative of something going on in my life because my grades were not what they normally were.”
So, Taylor went back home. She went through therapy. Received treatment. Her and her family did everything they could to get things better.
During those times, Taylor figured out what she wanted to do. She ended up moving to California with her mother for a while and came to the Bay Area.
“I jumped on it because a girl from Wyoming to live in California is like a dream,” Taylor said. “We all dream of it. We all dream of the beaches. San Francisco was not what I expected because it’s really cold in San Francisco, but I just fell in love with it here. I kind of found my place here, and I can’t imagine leaving.”
Times weren’t always easy for Taylor, but she fought through everything. Her willpower led her to where she is today.
She cites the birth of her daughters transforming her life and helping her become successful. Before getting pregnant, she suffered three miscarriages. Then, the lights of her life came.
When Taylor’s first daughter was six weeks old, she went back to school at night and received her education – something her parents and family always told her was important.
“My mom was amazing and helping out and making sure that I could go to school at night,” Taylor said. “A lot of all nighters. A lot of tears. But when I get to see my kids be successful and my kids being my students, and I graduated when my daughter with my bachelor’s. I went back to school and got my masters in education and my credential, so that took another year and a half of school.”
Today, Taylor is living her dream in the Bay Area, helping kids everywhere.
As she talks about all of the success stories she’s seen, she can rattle off so many.
There’s Boss Tagaloa, a former De La Salle player who went to UCLA. Taylor would take him home after tutoring when she was heading to Pittsburg from Concord. She was the first person he told about getting an offer from Michigan.
There’s Moon Ashby, a former Valley Christian player now on Washington State’s roster. Ashby wasn’t close to being eligible. When they were all driving to Florida, with Taylor, Ashby and coach Rudy Yamanoha, Taylor saw something incredible in Ashby.
“I’m in the passenger seat, but I’m turning around and we have the light on and we’re studying,” Taylor said. “This kid didn’t stop. And it was that ah ha moment all of a sudden it clicked, but working with this kid and being able to see him be successful and finally make his dream come true has been amazing.”
Or there are others like Austin Jones, who would drive from Antioch to Bishop O’Dowd every day. He took three AP classes his senior year and maintained a 4.25 GPA the entire time.
Jones is now at Stanford , where he ran for 550 yards and inninee touchdowns this past season.
“It just is awe inspiring to me to see when somebody wants something what they’ll do to go and get it,” Taylor said. “I like those stories, and I want him to come back and tell that story to those kids who think I can’t do this or hard work doesn’t pay off.”
It’s all about of the journey of Taylor’s, one that’s a dream turned reality.
It’s not a job for Taylor when she’s “working.” She loves sports. Her papa played for Notre Dame in 1949 and 1950 and has been a Denver Broncos season ticket holder for decades.
Sports are part of her fabric. So is working with kids. So is watching kids succeed and watch their dreams come true.
Wherever Taylor works, she is helping make those ambitions become true. Just ask Tarango, who discussed Urban Meyer’s “Real Life Wednesdays.” They would bring in speakers, teach them how to network and get jobs with different corporations, whether that be Google, Facebook or many others.
With Taylor, that all can happen at Vacaville Christian, Skyline and everyone else. She’s the game changer.
And the reason more wins keep on coming on and off the field of play.
“We’re trying to do that now, and Cassie is that glue that’s going to take us into that future with our kids,” Tarango said. “She’s transitioned academically, academically this is the best academic team we’ve ever had in my 15 years of coaching. It’s her and her dedication and her assistance to focusing on the kids academic success.”
Great look at a very dedicated and caring educator. She is committed to improving the lives of all her students.
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