All Taylor Beck could do was stare into the eyes of his brother, Cody Lamia-Beck. They talked up a storm, but time was running out. There wasn’t much else to see in that room at the Pottawatomie County Jail back in August of 2019, Taylor said — just a couple of vending machines and six other chairs that faced a TV monitor like the one he was using to communicate with his brother.
Taylor had a full hour to talk with Cody, who had been sentenced to 13 years in prison for the murder of a teenager in Wamego, but their remaining minutes were displayed in the corner of the screen.
That was overwhelming to both of them.
“One minute left,” Taylor said. “Then we both just sat there. You get a full 60 minutes to talk, and it counts down like ‘60, 59, 58,’ and then it just sits there at one. It doesn’t tell you how much of that minute is left. Then the TV screen goes black. All we could do is stare at each other awkwardly for 30 seconds.”
Taylor said he felt he had grown so much in the six months since Cody had been convicted. He talked about that with Cody, especially how he has developed into a star football player at Wamego. Cody couldn’t see him play, but the rest of his family watched when Taylor played in his first varsity game.
Wamego opened its season against Concordia on Sept. 6, 2019. Taylor, a junior, scored a defensive touchdown on the third play in front of his whole family, which included his mom, dad, three brothers (Lance, Alex and Tyler) niece, nephew and girlfriend. A lot of them get to see him play often, but all of them at once? A rare occasion. His parents are separated, and it took a lot to get his father, who lives in Missouri, to make it.
“He came down and watched me play,” Taylor said. “I was excited to see him up in the stands because I didn’t expect him to be there, but I kind of knew there was a chance.”
Taylor has shown he has the mental fortitude to be successful on the field, and he wants to make the right choices in the rest of his life, too. Taylor doesn’t like conflict or being in trouble. He has big goals, too: the NFL, the PGA, banking or even teaching.
He knows he couldn’t have gotten where he is without some of the people cheering for him in the stands.
Doug Kern, 71, is one of them. He’s not related to Taylor in any way, but he’s become a staple in his life and in the stands.
“Doug always sits in the top left corner,” Taylor said. “He’s always standing and always recording because after the game he sends me videos, because I like watching myself and seeing what I did wrong or right.”
Kern handed Taylor a sandwich in a plastic bag the morning of Oct. 10, 2019. It was still dark out at 7:15 a.m., but Taylor had to get to his morning conditioning for football. Doug always picks Taylor up from his mom’s house and gives him rides to conditioning, school, practice and then back home.
Kern also makes Taylor his lunch.
“That bread is really dry,” Doug said to Taylor as he handed him the sandwich. “It’s a new loaf but it’s dry, so I put extra mayonnaise and mustard on it. So be careful that it doesn’t spill all over when you eat it.”
Kern and Taylor have a terrific relationship, they said. But it started in a more concerning place, back when Taylor was getting into trouble.
“That’s a great story there,” Taylor said, laughing.
In January 2017, Taylor and his twin brother, Tyler, were walking around some smaller rental homes in Wamego looking for a kid Tyler knew from school.
“There was this kid that my brother had beef with, and they trash-talked him all of the time,” Taylor said. “So one time Tyler and I go over to the kid’s window, which was a rental that Doug owns.”
Tyler poked at the window and it broke. Taylor, confused and nervous, had them leave the scene in a hurry.
Kern eventually found out about the window. He had more information than Taylor and Tyler did, though. The tenant had already broken the window; Tyler just finished the process.
Kern wanted to figure out who had done it, though. He went to the police station and asked if he could get names, but the police said they couldn’t release that information because the two brothers were juveniles.
However, the officer did hint that the boys had been in trouble on and off with the law. Kern had to file a police report to get information. Kern wanted to talk with the kids, but the best he could get was the passing of his information to the boys’ mother, Tammy Lamia.
“She called me, to my surprise, and I told her I wanted to talk with her boys,” Kern said. “She said, ‘When and where?’ Tyler was the one who broke the window. Taylor was just coming off probation. Both of them were in that situation.”
This was the perfect scenario for Lamia, who needed the help with her boys.
The trouble-making from her family hasn’t completely vanished, she said, but a lot of that stopped when Kern entered their lives, at least for Taylor.
So Lamia agreed to send Tyler and Taylor to Kern’s house for a discussion.
“I chewed at them for five or 10 minutes,” Kern said. “I told them, ‘You guys can be involved with the police if you want to, but this water only gets deeper, it doesn’t get shallower. You don’t want to be involved with the law.’”
Kern said that conversation wasn’t an epiphany for Taylor; he was already seeking to escape the trouble-making lifestyle. Kern saw potential, and he’d helped other kids before.
“So I decided, you know, I’m going to see if I can change the trajectory on these kids’ lives,” Kern said. “I think to have any influence you have to be involved, so I decided I’m going to try and change them. So I’ve been pretty involved with them since then.”
Taylor had avoided going to see Cody in jail for a while. He didn’t want to see him there. He felt there was serious moral conflict because of the reason Cody was there.
There was a bonfire on Dec. 21, 2018. Cody was there along with Jacob Bouck, the victim, and a few others, according to County Attorney Sherri Schuck. Taylor didn’t hang out with any of them, he said. His free time was spent by himself in his room playing video games. Taylor found anything else around town boring.
But he remembered that week vividly.
“Apparently they left the bonfire, and the next day everything was normal. I woke up in my bed like normal, and all of the sudden like three days later — my brother Tyler and Lance were best friends with Jacob — and they were freaking out about it. Where is (Jacob) at? He’s dead, he’s gone.’ My mind was blown.”
Bouck’s body was found face-down in the Kansas River on Dec. 24, 2018, according to Schuck. Cody was later charged and convicted of second-degree murder for stabbing Bouck.
“It hit everybody hard,” Lamia said. “The boys all kind of just withdrew. There was a lot more fighting.”
Tammy had been desperate for her kids to avoid trouble, and she couldn’t afford to pay legal fees. She said she wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to go to work, and she naps in the parking lot there to make sure she isn’t late because she can’t afford to miss work.
“To her credit she works hard,” Kern said. “She is singlehandedly providing for six people with no help. I’m not condemning her there, ever. But Taylor has to get the kids up to go to school and make sure they got there.”
Taylor dealt with some traumatic moments after that Christmas Eve night. He was the one opening the door to dozens of Wamego police officers raiding his house.
He stopped playing NBA 2K and Madden on the Playstation. Those were games he played with Cody.
Cody was the one who helped Taylor find his love of football, too.
“Cody got me into football as a kid,” Taylor said. “Tyler was tied to the PS3. Me and Cody would be outside. I was this little squirt, and he’d still play with me.”
Taylor now plays those games again, and that’s a relief to Lamia. She wanted to see her boys happy again, and even a small thing like Taylor firing up an old game was emotional for her.
“When I go to school every day I’m a whole different person than I am at home,” Taylor said. “I have a shield that comes up. I wake up, get dressed, do my daily routine and go have a workout with the football team, and that kind of stuff will distract me at school from the other things I could be thinking about.”
Kern fought back tears talking about the Taylor’s mental fortitude.
“He is an incredibly resilient young man,” Kern said. “The life he has lived has forced him to live psychologically way beyond where he should be. When I watch him on the football field, he is just a little kid, but at home he has to be the dad. He is the one mom doesn’t have to parent as much.”
Football was the ultimate escape.
Even Kern said athletics probably saved Taylor. He might have taken a different path if he couldn’t have been a standout in football, basketball and golf.
Weston Moody, Wamego’s head football coach, saw Beck’s potential, too.
Moody just wrapped up his second season coaching the Red Raiders. Taylor was a sophomore when Moody first arrived in Wamego.
“When I first started coaching here, Taylor was a kid I heard about,” Moody said. “He was in the program already, but he wasn’t very involved. He was a bit of a mystery. But the first time I saw him, we have these boxes we have kids try to jump on. He just jumped over them. Then he was the fastest guy in every sprint and the first one to touch the quarterback on defense. This was a kid who was special.”
Taylor was anything but special when he played as a freshman as a sophomore, he said. He only got in one game in 2017; that was when he still needed redirection.
“I had bleach-blond hair at the time,” Taylor said. “It was terrible. What I cared about was being seen on the sidelines doing my little hair flip. It’s embarrassing to think about. But I had to be the one cheering the team on, and I was good at that.”
Taylor turned a new leaf his sophomore year under Moody’s direction. That’s when Taylor really decided he wanted to play football. He was still a JV player all year, lacking in football IQ, but he was athletic and made tackles everywhere on the field.
Taylor got much better in the summer of 2019 before his junior year.
“He’s a big piece of this team now, but he’s not the kid who is getting the hype,” Moody said. “He doesn’t get the carries or is the quarterback. He’s a hard-nosed kid who will do anything for the team.”
Kern remained a powerful role model for Taylor’s football career. He couldn’t help with the physical aspect, but Taylor wouldn’t be able to play without Kern.
Taylor struggled in school, trying to keep his grades up enough to stay eligible. Kern helped him with his studies — math specifically. They would go down to the church and practice questions on the dry-erase board there.
Taylor got better. It’s still tough for him, but he learned what it took to improve, and that lesson carried over to everything he does. Moody helped with that lesson, too, helping Taylor become a star on his talented varsity squad.
“All the odds are stacked against him. He should be in trouble or ineligible every week but he isn’t,” Moody said. “And that’s because of himself and some others who saw how special this kid is. He deserves what he wants.”
So Taylor had his chance. Everything aligned against Concordia. Almost all his family was there. He was able to play because of his hard work in school and he had Kern there for support.
During that game against Concordia in September, Taylor was ready. When the Red Raiders forced a fumble on the third play from scrimmage and the ball bounced near Taylor, he scooped up the ball up and scored.
He didn’t have much of a celebration. He just looked over to his people in the stands and waved. He knows that the struggles aren’t past him, though, and Kern knows it, too.
“It’s OK to fail,” Kern said. “I hope he doesn’t, but if he does we will pick up the pieces and go from there.”
Taylor is better equipped for future trauma and road blocks, not just because he’s been through the worst of it, but because he’s ready to be more.
“When I went into freshman year I didn’t know Doug,” Taylor said.
“I was just trying to get through things and be done. I was passing, even if it was barely. But now I have a role within athletics at Wamego, whether it be football, basketball or golf. I’ve got to be involved in school, with friends and more people than I was. I’m trying to pass classes with more than the minimum, because I’m much better than that.”