See to believe

VIENNA – Seeing is believing. That’s the old, overused quote most have heard far too many times in a lifetime. If it were true, Mathews linebacker and offensive lineman Mike Taylor would not have much to believe in when on the field.

This is because Taylor suffers from a rare disease called Stargardt Disease, which is a progressive macular degeneration condition that often leads to legal blindness in approximately one out of every 10,000 children, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. The AMDF website states “Stargardt Macular Dystrophy begins to damage both eyes somewhere between the ages of 6 and 20. Vision loss is usually slow until the 20/40 level, then rapidly progressing to the 20/200 (legal blindness) level.”

Taylor says while his eyesight is progressively getting worse over the years, there are periods of time when it stabilizes, which has been the case since he entered high school and began playing football three years ago. He has to rely heavily on his peripheral vision because when looking straight ahead, he sees mostly blurred, dark figures. This can make it very difficult to play the fast paced game of football, but Taylor has adapted to his situation and allows his instincts to make plays.

“I can see pretty much fine on the field,” he said dismissively. “I can see people running around and pretty much where the ball is going. When I play linebacker, the people’s faces are blurry but I can pretty much see their body perfectly. I can kind of tell where the ball is going to go depending on my reads and keys (like) following the guard or the people in the backfield.

“When I play passing wise, I just get to my zone. I can see the ball in the air when it gets to a certain distance toward me. It’s blurry from a distance but I can still see where it’s going to go.”

Things get a little trickier for Taylor when teams run play action. Because things from a distance are so blurry, making it difficult to see the ball for afar, play action passing plays are the most difficult for him to defend.

“It’s kind of a problem when they fake the handoff,” Taylor said. “Sometimes I’ll get confused and end up going after the guy who I think is going to run the ball when the quarterback still has it.”

Overall, Taylor spoke of his the disease very nonchalantly, as if everything was normal. He doesn’t seem to view it as a disability, but instead just something he has had to get used to. When going into high school and playing football for the first time, Taylor was concerned about how his eyesight would stack up and didn’t know if he would be able to overcome the difficulties. Entering his senior year as a key contributor, it is safe to say that he has managed the situation extremely well and has kept a modest mindset along the way.

“Three years ago, I though it might be a challenge with my eyes,” he said. “But when I got onto the field, I felt like I was doing pretty well with my eyesight and I just kept at it. Over the years, I’ve developed my (skills) and I think I do a pretty good job. I think I do pretty much better than some of the kids out there. Maybe not all of them, but I think I’m pretty average.”

Taylor is finishing up classes at the Trumbull Career and Technical Center, where he is studying carpentry. Upon graduation, he plans to enter the hands-on field of carpentry and work in house construction. He has the same hands-on personality while playing linebacker as well and said what he enjoys the most out of the game is getting a reaction from the crowd.

“I just enjoy being on the field, hearing the fans screaming (and) when I make a tackle, hearing my name on the speaker,” he said.