NICEVILLE, Fla. (WKRG) — A Northwest Florida couple has made it their mission to better protect high school football players across the country after their son died from a football injury in 2008.
It was a typical Friday night under the lights. Sophomore wide receiver Taylor Haugen was on the field for Niceville High School as they played at Fort Walton Beach. Haugen died in a freak football injury.
“He got hit front and back simultaneously, clean hit, but it got him in just the wrong spot and it crushed his liver,” Taylor’s Dad Brian Haugen said.
Since then, his parents, Kathy and Brian Haugen, have turned their loss into a mission to help others.
“I do not want to see this happen to another family,” Kathy said.
They started the Taylor Haugen Foundation giving out scholarships each year. They created the YESS Program, Youth Equipment for Sports Safety, where they help schools get EvoShield protective shirts for all players. It’s something that could’ve saved Taylor’s life.
“We’ve now fit over 7,000 kids in 18 states,” Brian said.
Included among those 7,000 players are 168 players this year on the freshman, JV, and varsity teams in Niceville.
“I love the work that they’re doing,” freshman quarterback Thomas Radliff said. “I love how they’re helping out all these younger athletes, protecting them, making them more safe.”
The lightweight shirts have padding in them to protect the players’ ribs.
“I played against Crestview,” freshman wide receiver Joshua Docchio said. “I caught the ball, and I got hit on the side. I barely even felt it like I usually would.”
Some of these players were born the same year Taylor passed away, but head coach Grant Thompson said they all know his story.
“He means so much to us,” Thompson said.
Coach Thompson is thankful to the Haugens for the work they’re doing to keep his players safe, and he’s bringing in more protective gear.
“Our kids work really hard, OK, and we’ll do anything and everything we can to give them the best and safest equipment,” Thompson said. “Ya know, with the EvoShields. We just got everybody new speed flexes. So top-of-the-line helmets, top-of-the-line rib protectors, shoulder pads.”
The Haugens said seeing these kids excited about another layer of protection fuels them to keep going.
“I was just talking to a defensive end who said he’s got a lot more confidence going into a hit because he knows he’s better protected,” Brian said. “The parents we run across in town pull us aside and say thank you for taking care of my kid, and that’s very heartwarming.”
Taylor was their only child. He loved football, Jesus and helping others, and the Haugens want to keep his legacy alive.
“He lived bigger than life,” Brian and Kathy said. “Every moment of every day was 110 miles per hour. He had a lot of energy and great sense of humor. Good, smart kid. Straight A’s. Just a great kid.”
If your school wants some of the protective gear, you just have to raise half the cost, and the Foundation will match it. For more information, visit The Taylor Haugen Foundation website.