A Son's Legacy of Courage and Passion

Kids aren’t supposed to die playing games. Not in high school. Not my son.

By Brian Haugen, Niceville, Florida

As appeared in

My cell phone buzzed. I glanced at the screen. My wife, Kathy. Taylor, our 15-year-old son, must have scored a touchdown in his first game as wide receiver for the Niceville High School Eagles.

It was the 2008 Kickoff Classic, a late-August preseason matchup. Still, for T, it was huge. People here in the Florida Panhandle turn out for two things: football and church.

I hated not being there. The only game of T’s that I’d ever missed. But I let the call go to voice mail. I was up to my neck in problems, 100 miles away in Mobile, Alabama. A National Guard Reservist, I was helping oversee preparations for Hurricane Gustav.

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If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to respond to a crisis. Even my job, as a financial advisor, was all about managing risk.

My phone buzzed again. Wow. T must really be doing great. In my mind I could see him going up for a catch, coming down with the ball in the end zone. Another call. And another. Finally, I picked up. A friend on the other end.

“T’s been hurt and he’s at the hospital,” he said. “You need to come home.”

I hung up and requested permission to leave. I called Kathy. She was crying so hard I could barely understand her. “Just hurry. Please.”

Kathy and I had talked about the risks of our only child playing football, especially with recent revelations about concussions and brain damage. But there was nothing T loved more on this earth. He carried a football everywhere he went. He even slept with it.

Besides, T was a tough kid. When he’d broken his wrist, it was days before he mentioned the pain. I couldn’t imagine his injury today was that serious. I just hoped he wouldn’t have to sit out the season.

Someone from the hospital staff met me at the ER. “Your son has multiple lacerations of the liver,” he said. “He’s in surgery now.” I would have collapsed had the staffer not held me up. I’d served in Afghanistan. Seen terrible injuries. I knew a damaged liver could be fatal.

Dear God, don’t let my son die, I prayed. God was a father himself. He would understand how urgent this was. But by morning T was dead. A freak accident. Going up for a pass he’d been hit from both sides. His abdomen was unprotected.

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“We almost never see this kind of injury in athletics, more in high-speed car accidents,” the surgeon said.

I felt like I was sleepwalking through the weeks that followed. Some days I didn’t get out of bed. T’s English teacher gave us an essay T had written. We used it as a eulogy at his funeral. “A motto for me is plain and simple,” he wrote. “Never give up. Don’t ever quit.”

That was T. Always pushing himself. He wasn’t a natural athlete. What he lacked in talent he made up for in passion and persistence. He was always the last to leave practice. Then he’d come home and I’d throw passes while he ran routes until it was too dark to see.

“You have to put yourself in position to make the catch,” I’d said, telling him that advice would serve him well later in life. Now he’d never have a chance to live out his life, his dreams of going to the University of Florida, playing football for the Gators like his hero, Tim Tebow, their Heisman-winning quarterback.

Sometimes, I’d go into his room and sit, look at the walls he’d painted Gator orange and blue, his Tebow posters, his trophies, and I’d miss my son with an ache so deep I didn’t think it would ever go away.

Kathy and I barely spoke. What was there to say? Our family ritual, watching football on TV together, seemed empty without T. It felt wrong to try to live a normal life. There was no one I wanted to see. Nothing I wanted to do.

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Your Comments (9)

Brian & Kathy, I read your story of T's injury and death with much sadness and tear's in my eyes. My husband and I lost our son Scott, to cancer at the age of 13. My husband coached in high school's throughout Nebraska and Scott was going to be our Nebraska Husker. He was a kind boy with a constant smile on his face. He was diagnosed in May of 1974 and died in October of '74. During that time we had a chance to watch him enjoy his summer with his dad fishing, catching bull frogs and playing tennis. We took him to the University Nebraska Medical Center every 2 weeks where he went through chemotherapy. He struggled after each session with nausea for a couple of days and then back to back to UNMC. We prayed constantly that God would spare his life, we couldn't imagine living without him. We soon realized that he was not going to win this battle. It was a long time before my husband would look at his picture or talk about him and remember the fun and funny times with him. Dan is now healed and is not angry at God any longer and his pictures are adorning our walls. I have always wondered if it would have been easier if he had been killed in an accident and we would not have had to watch him getting weaker and weaker. Now I know that we had time to talk to him about God and heaven and tell him how much we loved him. You and Kathy did not have that chance and it must have been so hard. Maybe the two boys will meet in heaven and tell each other their stories. God Bless you as you help other athletes by promoting the shirt that protects athletes from injury. Scott asked me if I thought getting hit hard in a Jr. High FB game caused his cancer. We talked about that occasionally and in my mind it probably did. No one will ever know the pain we suffer when we lose a child, children are supposed to outlive us! Thank God we have two beautiful daughters that have given us 7 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. Your story has really touched me and I wish you God's peace. Ruth

Thank you for sharing your story about such a great loss which you turned into a way to help others.

These stories give you hope and encouragement. They make my day a little better by reading them. Keep up the good work Guideposts, we need this stories.

Thank you for Guideposts. It is how I start each day. The stories are wonderful and inspirational and give a clear message of Gods unfailing loved.

Thank you so very much for this article. I have a grandson that has just started playing football in Middle School in Anderson, S. Carolina.. I do hope they have these shirts.
Your article touched me so. I lost a child. A girl Near birth. A loss of a child is a terrible thing to go through.
What you've done to help other young athletes is a wonderful tribute to T.
God Bless you richly!

Your strength and ability to turn what was the biggest negative in your lives into an overwhelming positive is testament to both your characters. God bless.

Kathy & Brian, Thanks for sharing your story. We all deal with grief in different ways & am hoping this tribute to Taylor is helping you through. Being a parent of loss of children I know that sharing them with others is a great way to help in healing. We were blessed to have the gifts of our children if even for a short time. Love to you, (Mom's) Cousin Nancy

Phi Alpha, Bro. I sit here, tears in my eyes, doubting that I could be as strong as both of you if anything so tragic happened to our grandsons.

My son also ruptured his spleen, but playing college baseball! He was very lucky not only to survive but fully recover. Our God is an awesome God. I hope schools everywhere take note of this shirt! Bless you in your endeavor.