cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt reaches up for interception during game against Illinois
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Throw It Up, Get Bust: Competition Continues to Drive Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt

August 15, 2021

This story originally appeared in the Hail Varsity 2021 Nebraska Football Yearbook. Never miss a Yearbook, or any issue of the magazine, with a subscription to Hail Varsity.

It was the first day of pads and Cam wanted Stan.

Stanley Morgan Jr., then a senior wideout who would soon break the program record for receiving yardage in a season, had seen the freshman in summer 7-on-7s and came away impressed. But that was in shorts. This was different. This was real. Fall camp is about winning jobs, and when the pads come on, separation happens.

“The first thing people test on defense is how physical you can be,” Tre Neal, a senior safety on Nebraska’s 2018 defense, told Hail Varsity. And Morgan is quite the physical test for a guy who was playing against high schoolers the last time he was on a football field.

“He didn’t have any technique or nothing and he was like, ‘I want Stan,’” Neal recalled. “I was like, ‘Woah, that’s a big-boy jump.’ But that’s the confidence he has. That’s the confidence he has in his abilities. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m gonna compete.’”

The other test of a defensive back: how’s your confidence? You have to believe you’re the best. If you get beat once, you have to believe it’ll never happen again. Lamar Jackson, a junior in 2018 and now a New York Jet, said the defensive backs at Nebraska felt like they ran things on the team. “If you’re a DB and don’t think you’re the best,” he said, “you’re in trouble.”

Cam Taylor-Britt was not in trouble.

And he even admits his technique was poor. But the jitters can’t be there. Re-learning how to play defense after years of being forced to play offense? That isn’t an excuse. New team? That isn’t an excuse. New environment and new coaches and new teammates and new opponents with new tendencies you haven’t yet studied? Those aren’t excuses either.

“I just felt like for me to get better and to get to where I want to be, I need to go against the best,” Cam said. “That’s how I feel at practice every day. I tell the receivers if I see you’re real tired, I’m real tired as well, but let’s get this rep in so we can see who’s gonna win when we’re tired. Give me your best rep and I’ll give you mine.”

Jackson expected a physical football player. The first-year cornerback was coming from Montgomery, Alabama, after all. Neal was itching to see what it looked like on the field.

Cam was actually the first player Neal met when he arrived in Lincoln.

Neal had announced on Twitter he would be transferring from UCF to Nebraska as a grad student, following Scott Frost, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, and secondary coach Travis Fisher from Orlando to Lincoln. Cam dropped him a DM after the announcement saying “I’m ready to work.” When Neal landed in Nebraska and made his way to Memorial Stadium for the first time, Cam was there too.

He earned the respect of the older guys on defense right away. He earned the trust of the coaching staff right away. He played right away. Cam would go with Neal immediately after games to watch film. He was bugging the older guys for input, advice, anything. He looked up to Jackson and the other veterans in the secondary.

Neal would like to hang out in the coaches’ offices and just pick their brains. Who’s doing what, who’s showing out, things like that. Chinander told him Cam had never played corner, that he was a high school quarterback, and Neal was taken aback. “Tre, this kid is gonna play,” Fisher told him. “These guys better practicepractice because he’s going to play.”

That first day the pads went on in fall camp, after lining up against the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Morgan for his first rep, Cam later “ran full-speed at a blocker, and it was terrible technique, which is the funny thing, it wasn’t good technique, but we knew he wasn’t scared,” Neal said. “That’s what signed me off. I was like, ‘This kid will run through a brick wall if you tell him to.’”

And he will.

Cam’s the kind of person who could be told “jump,” and his answer won’t just be “how high?” He’ll ask “how high did the other guy do it?”

He’s a senior now, getting ready for what will be his last year in Lincoln. He’s gone from playing on athleticism to potentially one of the best corners in the Big Ten. His coaches think he might be one of the best in the country.

One of the first Fisher defensive back recruits to join the Huskers, Cam has been exactly what Fisher wants: a good kind of pain in the backside, a guy who will push you every single second of every single day to be your best, because if you give him your best, he’s got to give you his in return.

“I’ve always been that ‘I have to do better than you guy,’” he said. “When it comes to competition in anything, I always try to be first. If we’re running laps in middle school and we’re running that mile that they run, I’m trying to be the fastest running the mile. If we’re playing dodgeball, I’m trying to be the last one standing and win the game for the team.”

It’s always been that way. Everyone has a Cam story.

November 21, 2020: Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (5) ready to stiff arm Illinois Fighting Illini punter Blake Hayes (14) at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo John Peterson.

Everyone agrees: Jaden, Cam’s younger brother, is the Madden player and Cam is the NBA 2K player. Cam will take anyone in anything, but don’t challenge the man in 2K unless you’re gonna back it up. “Imma give it to you, too,” he told me.

As most older brothers can attest, when the younger sibling is growing up, the wins are rare. Cam showed little regard. “He beat me in everything,” Jaden said. “Like, everything. I think I beat him one time when I was little and I kept it forever.”

If they were playing video games, Cam used to run up the score. “If it came time to where I see the tears coming out the eyes, I might stop, but then again that (would) boost me up some more,” he said.

If they were outside, Cam would try and throw a football farther. If they were eating cereal, he’d try to finish the bowl first, milk and all. If they were drawing, he’d try to have the better picture. (Cam used to draw shoes, which later turned into a love for real shoes. The brothers even fight over who has the better Crocs, a contest Jaden wins only because, as Cam says, “he started it before me.”)

Cam does not lose.

“He used to get so upset if his little brother or even his sister beat him out at something,” said Courtney Britt, Cam and Jaden’s mother. “If one beats the other on one of those games, they’ll turn the games off. If Cam is not doing well in Madden, he’ll turn the game off and say ‘Let’s go outside.’

“He’s going to get his win.”

Sometimes it’s wrestling. Furniture was a frequent casualty, even a TV was busted.

One day, Montgomery was enduring a rare snow storm. Darrell Britt, the boys’ dad remembers more than a couple inches being on the ground. The boys are inside playing Madden and Cam is losing.

“Next thing I heard was ‘Go put on your pads!’” Darrell said. “Next thing you know they’re outside in full gear playing football in the snow.”

Said Cam: “I had to get it in outside. I was like, ‘Let’s take it outside.’ He was like, ‘It’s snowing outside!’ I was like, ‘OK, and?’ So, we just put shoulder pads on, a helmet, some sweat pants on over cleats, and we went into the front yard. My sister was the referee.”

Hail Varsity June cover

The cover of the 2021 Hail Varsity Nebraska Football Yearbook, published in June. This story originally ran in the June issue.

Yes, they had a one-on-one scrimmage in the front yard. In the snow.

Oklahoma drill?

“You know we did,” Cam said.

This was nothing new.

“We used to do everything,” Jaden said. Drills, scrimmages, literally just hitting each other. They’d play ‘Throw It Up, Get Bust,’ which is basically every man for himself, and if you get tackled, you throw it up for someone else to become the target. There weren’t a ton of rules, just competition.

Cam burst a blood vessel in his hand during a football game and finished the game.

“He’s absurd,” Neal said.

As a sophomore, Cam tore the meniscus in his right knee while blocking on a kick return. He finished the game. An offer from Michigan had just come in, his first Division I scholarship offer, so a six-month recovery timetable became a two-month sprint back to the field.

“I wasn’t going in there trying to get back healthy, I was trying to hurry up and get back to enough percent to where I could get back on the field and help my team out,” Cam said. “And I regretted that instantly.”

After moving from wideout to quarterback for his junior season, three games into the year, he took a shot to the knee again. He tore his ACL, fractured his patella, and suffered two meniscal tears.

Doctors had to wait for the patella to heal before reconstructive surgery on the other ligaments could take place, so Cam had to sit. To this day, it remains the only time he’s questioned if football was the path for him.

“I just thought maybe the football gods and me weren’t on the right page,” he said. “I wondered if it was the right sport.” But Mom was there to reassure him. An ACL tear wasn’t the same kind of injury it used to be; athletes come back from it all the time. Attack rehab and go from there.

“He had the surgery in October, and they were expecting him to be out all of spring, all of summer, and possibly even the beginning of fall,” Courtney said. “He played in the spring game. He recovered that quickly. And he’s been nonstop ever since.”

He just knows one speed. Tell Cam he can’t do something and he takes it as a challenge.

When Neal reported to Nebraska and had to go through some testing before playing, Cam tried to race him. “Dude we’re about to run after this practice,” Neal said. “Why are you trying to race before?”

During his first spring ball, Cam embarrassed a wideout. “(Coaches) showed me a clip where he picked up a kid,” Neal said. “He could have blown up the receiver, but he just hit him, picked him up and was carrying him on his back like a baby.” Understandably, the wideout in question—a walk-on, but one taller than Cam—wasn’t a fan.

Teammates on the offensive side wanted to fight. Cam responded by saying, essentially, it could have been worse. Instead of carrying the wideout, he could have slammed him down.

Asked about the play, Cam burst out laughing. “I think we were in trap maybe and he ran an out and I triggered and, yeah, he went on a roller coaster,” he said.

Remember the virtual Nebraska spring game of 2020? When Cam played former Husker wideout Wan’Dale Robinson in a game of virtual football? Those two were getting after each other quite a bit.

“You know how like at the end of every drill, you have those two people who are like, ‘Nah, one more Coach! One more Coach!’ That was them,” said former defensive tackle Darrion Daniels. “It was always them.”

Robinson was close with a lot of the defensive backs. He and Cam naturally clicked. “Wan’Dale, at the end of the day, was the best look we had to compete with, so of course if you’re strapping up Wan’Dale, then you’re gonna feel good about yourself, be able to talk a little mess,” Jackson said. “They went back and forth.”

A shorter, quicker slot receiver, Robinson made Cam better. Cam liked that, studied every little movement. “He’ll get to the top of his route and he’ll stutter real fast,” Cam said. “I’m talking like lightning speed. He’ll either break in or out and you have to put your hands on him.”

Cam lives for the physicality of the game. Dicaprio Bootle, a former teammate, says his hands are the size of a gorilla’s. Neal says if he gets in press and gets his hands on a receiver, he’s in control. “A lot of receivers aren’t stronger than him, so he would get a lot of receivers pissed off,” Neal said. Cam relishes the moments when a wideout walks to the line of scrimmage, looks across to see him waiting on the other side, and droops.

“He loves the game of football. He’s always loved football,” Courtney said. “Once he’s on that field, he knows he has a job to do and he wants to complete it. He’s just very competitive in nature. When you tell Cameron he cannot do something, he’s gonna be like, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll show you.’

“He’s not a quitter, except when it comes to playing video games with his brother.”

Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt answers questions from the press during the preseason football press conference Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Lincoln, Neb. Photo by John S. Peterson.

No one in the family really knows where that spirit comes from, but everyone has it to varying degrees. Courtney and Darrell would always talk about leadership, and Cam has always been a natural in that regard, but the competitive nature of their children has always been there.

Perhaps it’s because he’s a people-pleaser. “He doesn’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Courtney said. When he was younger, he informed her he wanted to be a comedian when he grew up. “I make people laugh,” he told her. “Yes you do, but I need you to get a job that has benefits and a retirement plan,” she responded.

“He’s been a people-pleaser since he was little,” she said. “He never meets a stranger. When he was a toddler and he started to walk, we’d be in the mall and he’d go up to random strangers and want to give them hugs and handshakes and high fives.”

He stays long after events to sign autographs and take pictures. It’s an infectious, cheerful personality. People gravitate to him.

On the football field, that selflessness has resulted in quite the versatile highlight reel.

In Pee-Wee football, he played every position but lineman. He was even a long-snapper. Early on in his career, he preferred running back; it put the ball in his hands and allowed him to hit people.

“It was pretty bad because I wanted to hit people so bad, they called me ‘Beast Mode,’” Cam said, evoking one of the NFL’s most tenacious ball-carriers—Marshawn Lynch. “I could break a long run and I would still not go to the end zone. It was kind of weird. Kids want to get in the end zone, and I would try to find someone to run them over first and then go to the end zone.”

His go-to was the stiff arm. Imagine a Pop Warner football league where kids with helmets bigger than their torsos are getting stiff-armed into the dirt. Cam’s form was excellent. “It’s kind of devastating,” Darrell said with a smile, “on a smaller scale of Derrick Henry.”

In middle school, Cam’s quarterback career officially began. The team’s quarterback couldn’t see over his offensive line, but Cam could, so they moved him from wideout to quarterback and moved the quarterback to wideout. “I wanna say probably the second play at quarterback he threw a pass down the sideline that had to be 80 yards,” Darrell said. “He threw it from his 20 and the receiver caught it in stride on the other 20. This was in eighth grade.” And he was a quarterback from then on.

Cam was good at it. He had that magnetism that draws teammates to him, he had an innate leadership quality and he had a cannon for an arm.

“I was forced to play it, if we’re being honest,” Cam said. His senior year, he threw for 1,466 yards and 16 touchdowns, and ran for 1,030 yards and 14 touchdowns. Recruiting services labeled him an athlete. Colleges thought he could play defensive back. But most coaches wanted to see high school film of him at the position first. The coaching staff at Park Crossing High School, given the team, had to keep him at quarterback. “Colleges really didn’t know what they wanted to recruit me as,” he said.

And then there was Nebraska.

Fisher saw his athletic ability. Nebraska didn’t care if there was tape or not. As with most instances on the trail, Fisher trusted his eyes and instincts. On Cam’s official visit, Frost asked him what he wanted to play, quarterback or defensive back.

“Coach, honestly, I’m tired of getting hit,” Cam answered. “I want to do some hitting. I’m playing defensive back.”

And that was that.

When Cam said this past spring he didn’t want to come off the field for Nebraska, he meant it. And not just in a sound bite. He played in 11 games as a true freshman, in part, because he approached special teams with the same intensity as corner. “One of the things he would always ask about was special teams,” Neal said of Cam’s freshman season.

That hasn’t changed. Cam’s goal is to make it to the NFL. But the driving force behind his will is family. That’s his family at home, his extended family, and his football family.

“Not only for himself, but he wants the people around him to be happy and successful and progressive” Courtney said. “He doesn’t like to be stagnant.”

Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt knocks away a pass from receiver

Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt #5 knocks away a pass intended for wide receiver Jahan Dotson #5 of the Penn State Nittany Lions, November 14, 2020, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska. Photo by Eric Francis.

Darrell Britt was a coach for Cam in city league before he became Pops. Courtney and Darrell got married in 2014, but they had been together before that. His relationship with Cam and Jaden is strong.

He’s a proud father. That much is evident when you ask about his boys.

“He found out I liked Skittles and Starburst, I’m a sucker for candy, and he used to bring me candy every day at practice,” Darrell said. “I guess he wanted me to bring the energy because I was super-hyped and excited and everything to get the guys going, I guess that was something he loved. I don’t think he missed a practice without bringing me candy. That became an everyday thing.”

As Cam got older and their relationship grew, the two would go on car rides around Montgomery.

“Going from coach and being his mentor and now father, we’ve done a lot,” Darrell said. “I’ll show him different little places that he don’t want to end up when he gets older. Just kind of a lot of life lessons with him, we talk a lot. Our relationship is . . . I love it. I love it.”

When he’s done at Nebraska, Cam will put on a football camp in Montgomery for kids. When he comes home to visit, he’ll end up at a nearby park with a bunch of local kids and a ball and that huge Cam smile Nebraska fans have fallen in love with.

“A lot of kids don’t have people they can look up to who are doing the things they want to do in life,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone to actually come to me who was in the NFL or just a (high-profile) player in college come to me and give me knowledge, so if I can do that for other kids, I can help the future out.”

Cam wants to give back. “FOE,” the family says. Family over everything. Cam’s family is big, and it isn’t just blood. Tattoos honor family members who have passed. His giving everything to anything he does is his way of making his family proud. Helping out kids back home, that’s a responsibility that comes with his talent. “One of the things he wants to do when he’s done playing football is be a mentor for kids,” Darrell said.

Added Courtney: “He just does not like to let people down.”

So, he doesn’t.

Cam’s been blessed with ability, but few have outworked him. By the time his sophomore year arrived at Nebraska, he was a regular member of the secondary rotation. He started 10 games in 2019. In the season-opener against South Alabama, he had a fourth-quarter interception.

That game will forever have meaning beyond the field though.

Courtney was in the stands with Cam’s sister. Darrell, still coaching at Park Crossing, was home with Jaden in Montgomery watching on TV. As a freshman, Cam wore the name “Taylor” across the back of his jersey.

The first time Darrell saw him on the broadcast that day in 2019, Cam’s nameplate read “Taylor-Britt.”

“Everybody likes surprises,” Cam said.

He’d decided on his own to add Darrell’s name to his. Darrell was in shock.

“I ended up texting him during the game,” Darrell said. “I knew he wasn’t going to be able to see it, but I texted him. Just . . . wow.

“It made me feel like I did a good job with him. That said a lot to me.”

People don’t add last names, Cam said. “That’s my dawg.” Jaden said the moment brought out some emotion in Darrell. It was a special one. “He’s been here since we’ve been playing little league,” Jaden said. “He knows everything about us. He’s just an amazing person. I’m grateful that he’s here with us.”

Nebraska Cornhuskers Cam Taylor-Britt #5 during their spring football game in Lincoln Nebraska May 1st, 2021. Photo by Eric Francis

There was no decision to be made when it came to the NFL during the last offseason. Cam was coming back. “We just wanted to hold it off and give everybody some jitters,” Cam said with a laugh.

As a junior, he earned second-team All-Big Ten recognition from the league’s coaches. In eight games, Cam had 28 tackles, three tackles for loss, four pass break-ups and two picks. “I don’t know how many corners there are in the conference or country that are better than him, but I doubt there’s many, and he’ll get the chance to prove that,” Frost said this spring.

The NFL was there. It was a realistic pathway. Cam might not have been a high pick, but it was certainly a possibility. After spot play as a freshman and once again bouncing around positions as a sophomore, Cam settled in at corner in 2020.

“In the second half of last year, he was lockdown,” Neal said.

But the family didn’t even have a discussion about it. Fisher, despite a promise made to Cam’s family that he’d see Cam get his degree before sending him off to the league, had to do exactly zero convincing.

“Before Cam even went to Nebraska, he said ‘My ultimate goal is to get my degree before I go into the NFL Draft,’” Courtney said.

He’ll graduate in December. The NFL will come after that. Funny enough, in the fall, every member of the Britt household will be in college in some form or another. Cam will poke fun at his mom, saying she loves school. Courtney will earn her master’s next year. Education is “a priority in this family,” Courtney said, and that has been ingrained in her kids since they were young.

“A lot of people here where I’m from don’t graduate,” Cam said. “A lot of them are either friends of mine or friends of friends that I’ve known that have gone on and they end up back here in Montgomery. That’s one thing I didn’t want to be, is one of those Montgomery stereotypes.”

With health, Cam will have a long career playing football. His physical tools, Neal says, could give him a decade-long run. This season will be about proving his value.

“I have no doubt when scouts see him, when people come to see him in person, they’re gonna be pleased with what they see because he’s physically gifted,” Bootle said. “For him, it’s just gonna be go out there and dominate. Go and get your respect.”

Neal and Cam still talk. He recently told him something similar.

“I said, ‘You’re gonna have a new corner out there on the other side. That’s probably who’s gonna get most of the throws. So, the next step in you being great is you work on your technique no matter what, if they throw the ball to you or not,’” Neal said. “‘Even if you got the guy locked up or not, stay on them. Don’t get lazy because they’re not throwing your way, and when they do throw it your way, you need to take the ball away.’”

Cam’s personal goals for the year? First-team All-Big Ten, first-team All-American.

To get there, those pass break-ups have to become takeaways. Consider the fact the fourth-year defender might just be scratching the surface of his potential as a cover corner.

“I brag about my hands, just how big they are and how good they are,” Cam said. “And I tell coaches, ‘My hands are better than our receivers,’ And I go on and on about that. So, when I drop something, I feel like it’s the end of the world. We can’t drop anything.

“I have to come out there and put my best foot forward, and that’s what you’ll see this year.”

There’s a confidence in his voice, almost as if he’s issuing a challenge. But it’s not arrogance. Cam is easy to root for. He’s a nightmare to practice against. By all accounts he’s a joy to coach and he’s a fierce loyalist.

Everyone says they’re a competitor, but when Cam looks into the camera and says “‘lacrosse, tennis, soccer, badminton, any sport you name, we can do it all,” and his mother laughs at home because she knows he’s never played any of those sports, he’s flashing a very specific brand of uniqueness.

One last story: Darrell’s favorite player was Deion “Prime Time” Sanders. Look good, feel good, play good. That motto passed from icon to father to son and manifested itself in a pregame ritual. Cam would lay his uniform out every Friday night. He’d ask which sleeve to wear, which socks to wear.

“He would have it laid out like you would think there was a body right there,” Darrell said.

Every Saturday morning, music was blasting through the house. “I’d be like, ‘Cam, it’s 8 o’clock in the morning. You don’t play until 6. But he is up, wired, and anxious,” Darrell said. Look good, feel good, play good.

I asked Darrell who Cam’s favorite player was, if it was Deion Sanders or someone else. He liked Tavon Austin, Julio Jones, Cam Newton, but a favorite player?

“He never really had a favorite player,” Darrell said. “I think he always just wanted to be himself.”

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