With his opponent marching down the field nearing the end zone, Willie Taggart Jr. leapt into the air and snagged a one-handed interception. He ran the ball all the way down the field to the five-yard line while his father watched in awe on the sideline.
“I was shocked,” coach Willie Taggart said. “Every year (Willie Jr.) gets better and he surprises me with something.”
Taggart’s sons, Willie Jr., 12, and Jackson, 8, who both play quarterback like their father did, have been involved in football their entire lives.
“Ever since they could walk, they’ve been on a football field,” Taggart’s wife, Taneshia, said. “When they were little, I would take them out to practice so we could spend time with Willie after practice and they would play around. In the summers, they would go up and spend the day with him. Sometimes they would even go to meetings. So it’s been ingrained in them since the beginning.”
The Taggart boys started playing football at age 5 and immediately showed an interest and passion for the game.
“They were very interested because that’s what their dad did,” Taggart said. “They’re around football all the time, so it’s something they grew accustomed to and like.”
But Willie Jr. and Jackson have an appreciation and passion for football that is uncommon in most kids their age.
“(Jackson) has always been intrigued with it,” Taggart said. “(Since he was 6), he always sits with me to watch film and he asks questions. It’s pretty cool when you’re watching an NFL game and he will point out some things that he sees.”
When Willie is at work, Taneshia said she will find Jackson in his father’s office, sitting down with a remote, continuously going over film.
Jackson’s habitual film study comes from his father sitting down with him and his older brother and pointing out mistakes players make in games.
“Those guys like watching film; they like studying football,” Taggart said. “They watch our guys with me and they pick up on things. They just understand the game better than most kids their age.”
When the three sit down to watch film together, Taggart said the boys are constantly asking questions about plays and strategy and how to better their own play.
As his children grew older, Taggart started having a friend videotape his sons’ games so he could critique their play with them at home.
Taggart said studying film has already started to pay off, as he can see when a good play comes from knowing where the receivers are going or where the defenders are on the field.
But while correcting fundamentals is an essential part of learning the game, Taggart said the most important thing he tries to teach his sons is how to be leaders for their teammates.
His sons have embraced the challenge.
“After a loss, Willie Jr. asked the coach if he could speak to his football team,” Taggart said. “He talked to the guys about practicing harder so they don’t feel the way that they did after that loss. They won every game after that.”
Taggart stresses the importance of leadership to his sons because of his experiences as a leader as quarterback at Manatee High School and Western Kentucky.
“I think, for me, always being in a leadership position playing quarterback helped me tremendously,” he said. “It helped me as a player and it helped me to get in the position I’m in now. I try to teach that to my boys and I’m starting to see it on the field.”
Being a leader includes not only staying positive in the face of adversity, but showing toughness on the field as well, he said.
“I never want them to lay on the ground. They understand that if they get hit and as long as a bone isn’t broken, they get to the sideline. They need to realize football is going to hurt; it’s not one of those sports where everything is going to be peaches and cream,” Taggart said.
On the rare chance Taggart has a day off to watch his sons play, he can be found walking up and down the sideline, following the team and giving his sons advice at any opportunity.
“He gets fired up, but he’s always in coach mode,” Taneshia said. “He tries to stay by the fence, close to the sideline so he can get a couple of words to them and coach them up a little bit. He loves to see them play.”
Taggart said he tries to leave most of the coaching on Saturdays up to the coach, but he can’t help but point out things his boys should be looking for.
When the boys know their dad is coming to watch them play, Taneshia said they can’t wait to show him what they have learned.
Taggart is constantly trying to teach his kids lessons about life and football, but said the most important thing for him is to set an example for how his kids should approach life.
“It’s gratifying to know that they want to be like their dad,” he said. “So, I set out to be a great example for them daily. One thing I know about my kids is they’re constantly watching me.”