Lions’ Quintez Cephus shares tale of hardship on journey to NFL

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

On the field, Quintez Cephus is just another fifth-round rookie. There’s some promise there, with modest production through three games. But beyond the six catches for 97 yards, beyond the football player is a man who has dealt with tribulations that could break a lesser person. 

Drawing from his own personal circumstances, as well as the racial strife that’s ongoing in the country, Cephus sought to create change at a uniquely personal level by posting his email address on Instagram and opening it up for anyone to reach out to him to talk about what’s happening in the world. 

This week, The NFL Network featured a segment on Cephus, his personal issues, and the response he received to the post. 

First, there are things you need to understand about Cephus’ upbringing. When he was just 2 years old, his father Andre Taylor went to prison for four years on aggravated assault and cocaine-trafficking convictions. 

Despite his own failures, Cephus’ father tried to make life better for his son, first by instilling the values of hard work and respect. And after Taylor’s release, he helped get Cephus enrolled in Stratford Academy, a predominately white private school in Macon, Georgia.

There, Cephus said he regularly dealt with racism and felt like an outsider, something he hoped would go away once he got to college. 

In 2017, while Cephus was playing at the University of Wisconsin, Taylor was murdered by a rival gang member in Georgia. And a year later, Cephus was charged with two accounts of sexual assault. Early in the investigation, he was kicked off the football team and expelled from the school. 

“It seemed like I had lost everything that I had worked so hard for,” Cephus said in the NFL Network feature. “I cut off my dreadlocks because I was told that I would be viewed as a n—–. The cop who interviewed me about the assault said, ‘Who would name their son Quintez?’ I was already guilty because of who I was.”

Nearly a year after he was charged, the case went to trial. Four days later, following a 45-minute deliberation by the jury, he was exonerated, found not guilty on both charges.

With his name cleared, he was able to return to the school and team. Honoring his late father by placing initials on his helmet and a copy of his obituary on his person each time he took the field, Cephus racked up 59 catches and seven touchdowns for the Badgers, which eventually led him to Detroit. 

“When we were talking about the receivers in the draft, he was definitely a guy that I had circled and I said, ‘I would love to coach this guy,'” Lions receivers coach Robert Prince said last month. “I loved the way he played. He was a very physical receiver, great at the catch point, contested catches, had the strength to create separation. I thought he was a really good player and I thought he’d fit with what we wanted.”

In the feature that aired on the NFL Network, Cephus read a couple of the emails he received, as well as his responses. One, from a teacher, asked for advice on how to better teach empathy for the struggle of a young Black man in America. The second, from a Wisconsin fan, wrote about how much he was bothered by the fan base turning on Cephus after the sexual assault allegations, before allowing the process to play out. 

The segment closed with Cephus reading his own letter to his father. 

“Dad, I wish you could be here to see me today, to see all that I’ve overcome,” Cephus read. “Dad, when you were killed, I thought you’d be able to open your eyes again and talk to me. I just knew you had the strength and didn’t think anything could keep you away from me. The doctor told me the blood was circulating everywhere in your body except your neck up. He told me you weren’t going to make it. I went back to Wisconsin because I knew that’s what you wanted. 

“Like you always told me, it was showtime and I stepped up when it was showtime. The first time I cried after being drafted was when I told you, ‘Dad, I made it.’ Your boy was drafted to the Detroit Lions.

“I have a long journey ahead, but I’m going to continue to be a leader, work hard, respect others and take good care of my little sisters and my mom like you always told me to do. And I’ll continue our story and hopefully inspire another kid, like me, to keep fighting. Thanks for everything, dad. I love you.”

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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