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Tau Sudlow did everything big – especially dreaming.

“There were many instances where you could see that he was going places,” says his older sister, Zakiya Sudlow. “In January, when he was home, he had this DVD on with him playing, and we watched it together. He was smiling the whole time, and you could see how much it meant to him. He was so proud, and felt such a joy, almost like he was getting flashes of his future.”

It was a future planned to begin at Tennessee State University, where 20-year-old Tau Sudlow (pronounced “Taw-oo Sudd-low”), a 6-foot-3, 275-pound offensive lineman from Brooklyn, N.Y., had signed March 26 a national letter of intent to continue his career after two years spent at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.

“He knew he was going to be an NFL star,” Zakiya Sudlow says. “He was so excited, he didn’t even want to go to his graduation in Santa Maria; he just wanted to have a big party in Brooklyn.”

Tau Sudlow, whose transfer paperwork was filed May 2, never got that chance. He was shot and killed later that day in Santa Maria.

“‘Shock’ wouldn’t even describe it,” says Kris Dutra, head coach at Allan Hancock, where Sudlow was a team captain and twice selected to the All-Western State Conference Team. “It takes a while for things to sink in.”

While physically imposing, Sudlow’s relentlessness was his most defining trait, in the eyes of Dutra.

“He was a very mentally tough kid,” Dutra says. “Every once in a while I have players I’d call ‘powerful,’ and he was powerful. He’d block to the whistle every single play. What made him special was that effort level, that tenacity. He was a special kid – he wasn’t afraid of anything.”

Tennessee State, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) program in Nashville, Tenn., seems to have also been won over by Sudlow’s mindset.

“Tau was a great young man,” says Charles Huff Jr., an offensive line coach in charge of the Tigers’ centers and guards. “When he was here on his visit, he was really humble, a mild-mannered kid. We thought he would’ve been tremendous here – would’ve blossomed.”

For Sudlow, transferring to Tennessee State (which produced Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a first-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL’s draft April 26, and former NFL greats such as Richard Dent and Ed “Too Tall” Jones) represented not only a chance to keep playing but also to no longer be so far away from his family.

“He did want to move closer to home,” Huff says. “He really liked a good family atmosphere and saw that our players were really close to one another. Nashville’s a pretty good-sized city, and our players keep an eye on each other.”

Relocating to Tennessee wouldn’t seem to have been much of an obstacle for Sudlow after already having followed his dream from the Empire State to the California city of just more than 90,000.

“In order to play, he had to move,” Zakiya Sudlow explains of her brother, who in 2005 was a team captain and chipped in defensively with 23 tackles and a sack for Brooklyn, N.Y.’s South Shore High School, which averaged 25.8 points per game while going 7-3. “If he could’ve, he would’ve stayed. I really feel like his heart was in New York. California was a stepping stone for him to reach his full goals.”

Even so, those who knew Tau Sudlow say he made his time on the West Coast more than a means to an end.

“There were parts he thought were a little slow or boring,” Dutra says. “But for a kid from New York City, it was also refreshing for him, I think. He told me on a number of occasions that he liked the relaxed kind of lifestyle.”

According to the Santa Maria Police Department, Sudlow was shot at about 11:15 p.m. May 2 in the 900 block of East Main Street after leaving a nearby house party, and was found dead at the scene from a gunshot wound to the chest.

Tyrel Jordan, 20, of Santa Maria, reportedly fled the scene on foot before officers captured him three blocks away. While fleeing, according to Santa Maria police Lt. Dan Ast, Jordan discarded the alleged murder weapon, a .45 caliber revolver.

Jordan remains without bail in Santa Barbara County Jail, where he awaits a murder charge at an arraignment Friday in Santa Maria.

“He hung out with everybody,” Dutra says of Sudlow. “I don’t know one kid that would ever have an ill will against him. He wasn’t in a bad neighborhood or anything, just a regular house, maybe 20 kids, and this guy comes out of nowhere. You just can’t assume anything. You never know when things like that can happen. That’s what my team took away from it and what I took away from it.”

Huff shares Dutra’s sense of fleetingness, adding that it takes on an especially threatening dimension for successful athletes.

“You’re going to be a big name, a big kid, and there are going to be things others might be able to get away with that you can’t,” Huff says. “We preach to our kids if the situation is going to get out of control to just walk away. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes you have no control over what’s going on as an innocent bystander.”

To family members, Sudlow wasn’t a guardian just on the field.

“Once he got older and grew into his manhood, he was a protector,” Zakiya Sudlow says. “Just knowing he was around, I felt safe. You would never think it of someone of that stature, but he was the most gentle man I know.”

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