Taggart walks-on to dream experience

“Michael Taggart often watches Akron’s road football games alone, scrutinizing each Zips play and animatedly voicing his opinion on the team’s execution. Taggart has seen them all run countless times before – in practice. The University of Akron sophomore is in his first season as a walk-on member of the Zips’ scout team.”

Michael Taggart often watches Akron’s road football games alone, scrutinizing each Zips play and animatedly voicing his opinion on the team’s execution.

Taggart has seen them all run countless times before – in practice.

The University of Akron sophomore is in his first season as a walk-on member of the Zips’ scout team. Since scout team players rarely travel with the team’s active roster, Taggart and the rest of the practice squad are relegated to the role of fans when the Zips hit the road.

I usually watch them alone, because nobody really likes to watch them with me because of how I react, Taggart said when asked about his usual arrangement to watch road contests. Sometimes, I try not to watch the games as much. I find myself frustrated sometimes because I wish I was out there.

That desire to be out there with the Zips led Taggart to tryout for the Zips at the beginning of this season. Taggart, a three-year starter and second-team All-Suburban League selection his senior year at Green High School, took the first step toward reaching his dream of playing college football when he earned a spot on UA’s team as a non-scholarship walk-on.

It was a great feeling, being able to know that I made it, because it was always a dream to (play) at the college level, Taggart said. Being able to know that I am a college football player has always been a dream just because not everyone can play at the next level.

While admitting that he still has much more to accomplish before obtaining an active roster spot, Taggart said that he relishes the opportunity to work his way up from the bottom of the depth chart.

I like starting from the bottom up, he said. It shows that I have to do a lot more work, rather than just going in and maybe messing up my first year. I like to learn new things.

Taggart said that one of the major drawbacks of being a member of the scout team is that people outside the team do not give scout team players as much respect as those Zips that they see on the field on Saturdays, but that the lack of respect fuels him to become better and showcase his abilities whenever he’s given the opportunity.

I like having everybody looking down on you and just looking over you, because it means you have to prove you’re there for a reason and you want to be there, Taggart said. It makes it better to know that you just have to do things to show who you really are.

While those outside the team may not recognize or respect Taggart, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound linebacker’s teammates certainly do.

He won over all the hearts of the linebacker corps, said defensive coordinator Jim Fleming. They love the guy – he’s one of the guys.

Ideal walk-on

Fleming said that Taggart’s work ethic and attitude are what have made him successful in his first season of college football.

If you look at the first stage for any walk-on player, the first step that is necessary for them to be invited and stay with what we’re doing is a commitment to doing the best they can at whatever role we ask them to play, Fleming said. Tags meets that to the highest degree and then some.

Fleming added that Taggart’s high school football background – Taggart recorded 53 tackles and helped the Green Bulldogs to a 28-8 record over three seasons – demonstrates that he has skills that can be furthered developed at Akron in making him into a good college player.

While the route to success after joining the football team as a walk-on can be difficult, several former Zips players have navigated the path to success that Taggart has begun to travel this season.

We’ve had some real success stories with guys that have walked on, earned scholarships and played football, Fleming said. I think Tags meets all the criteria we’re looking for, which is first, the right attitude and second, physical talent that we can develop. Hopefully we will be able to get him on the field at some point to help us on defense or special teams.

Active in practice

Taggart may struggle with accepting the fact that he can’t help the team while standing on the sideline at the Rubber Bowl or while watching in Akron the team’s road games, but he knows the opposite is true during practice.

You are a scout team player and you make the team better by going out on the field, because you know you have your 110 percent (effort), Taggart said. That reflects on them playing on Saturday and how they perform.

Taggart’s coach agrees with his developing pupil.

We say this on a weekly basis – as goes the scout team, so goes our preparation, Fleming said. If the scout team is not into it, if they’re not giving full effort, if they’re not trying hard to give the look we’re going to see on Saturdays, than our preparation is hamstrung as a result.

Tags has been one of those guys for us, keeping those guys going.

Taggart was asked recently to move from his natural position of linebacker to tight end to add depth to the position on the scout team.

Like the challenges that came before, Taggart welcomed the position change and viewed the move as a compliment given to him by the Zips coaching staff.

I feel honored to be able to go to a different position, because it makes me know that they have that much trust in me, Taggart said. Also, it makes (me) feel happy because the coaches feel like I can do just as well over there as I was at linebacker.

During the few times Taggart has gotten discouraged and thought about ending his athletic career, he remembers how much playing the game of football means to him.

A lot of times I felt like I should just give up, but (I) automatically realize that this is the next level from high school, Taggart said. It’s a dream to be at the college level, so for me, it’s, something I can’t give up.