STANFORD -- Stepfan Taylor wanted to end the sorrow. The 5-year-old felt a stinging ache Christmas morning nearly 16 years ago while watching his mother grieve over news her sister had been found raped and strangled in an Arlington, Texas, apartment, the victim of a serial killer.

Taylor, now one of the best tailbacks in Stanford history, instinctively tried to turn the sad room into a happy one just as his beloved aunt once did.

"You always want the best for your mom -- even if you're not old enough to understand what is going on," he said.

It wasn't easy to do in a family haunted by tragedy. In a cruel twist, his mom, Skyla Taylor, and now-deceased aunt had lost their own mother 19 years earlier in a Fort Worth murder case that remains unsolved.

Over time, the once-shy boy from Mansfield, Texas, discovered he could help his family cope with the losses through humor.

"To this day, he still is a prankster," Skyla Taylor said.

It is a mechanism Taylor, 21, has employed to lighten the mood in the Stanford locker room during three-plus seasons. And should it become too intense Saturday during the Big Game against Cal, Taylor probably will be the one to cut the tension for the No. 22 Cardinal.

Outsiders might see him as a button-down ball carrier inching toward the school's all-time rushing record. But comedy comes natural to the player nicknamed "Kulabafi." His comedic side can be found in irreverent YouTube dance and rap videos under the title Stepfan Taylor Presents. He even has corralled 292-pound center Sam Schwartzstein to make a cameo.


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"You just want to see people happy," Taylor said. "Once I knew I could make my family laugh, I kept it going from there."

The family needed relief from the 1996 case that attracted national attention and TV cameras to their home.

Taylor's great uncle discovered Wendie Rochelle Prescott's body in her bathtub after she failed to show up earlier Christmas Eve day for a shopping trip. She was 22. The incident came three months after another victim had died in the same complex, leaving residents terrified.

The slayings went unsolved for more than three years, but detectives got a break in 1999 with the arrest of Dale Devon Scheanette for a burglary near Dallas. After authorities matched a fingerprint, the FBI reviewed DNA to confirm the evidence.

A jury convicted Scheanette of the murder, and he was executed in 2009 during Taylor's freshman year at Stanford.

At first Taylor struggled with the loss of his fun-loving aunt, a teacher's aide who used to embarrass the first-grader by showering him with kisses at school. His mother recalled how Stepfan (pronounced Ste-fon) would cry every time classmates asked about Prescott's absence.

Taylor remembers hanging on to his mother's leg a lot after his aunt died.

"He was a sensitive boy," Skyla Taylor said. "He wants everybody to be happy."

The first few Christmases after the murder were rough for the family. "But we didn't want Christmas to be a time of sadness, because we knew Wendie didn't want that," Taylor said. "Instead of that being a sad day remembering the bad, we remember the good."

Taylor eventually let go of the bitterness with guidance from his mom and great aunt Brenda Norwood, the family's matriarch who helped raise Skyla after her mother died when she was 7 and Wendie was 3. They taught Taylor to never hold a grudge.

"I had to forgive him and move on," he said of the killer.

Skyla Taylor brought up Stepfan and his sister mostly alone. The woman who dropped out of community college after getting pregnant demanded her children gets A's in school and never quit something they started.

Not even football, where Taylor showed promise as a third-grader. He loved playing in games but pitched a fit when it came time to go to practice.

"You can cry all you want, but I'm not going to let you quit," his mother would say.

By the time Taylor considered Stanford, he was one of Texas' most prized high school recruits. He played behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart as a Cardinal freshman. After consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons Taylor has become the centerpiece of Stanford's ground game.

The Cardinal has relied heavily on the back who has gained 657 yards in six games this season. With 3,427 yards in his career, Taylor ranks third in school history.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound back could eclipse Darrin Nelson's all-time school rushing record of 4,033 yards. But Taylor didn't even realize he had become Stanford's third 3,000-yard rusher until a teammate texted him a few days after the USC game last month.

Instead of celebrating the milestone, Taylor was asking coaches what he needed to do to improve.

His quest to improve goes beyond the football field, where the information science and technology in society major eventually wants to work in entertainment. Taylor currently is exploring the possibility of creating a "Kulabafi" clothing line.

The nickname, by the way, came about while freestyle rapping with fellow tailback Anthony Wilkerson during practice last year.

Just another time he left them laughing.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.