All his life, Taylor Rapp has heard how rare and unique he is.
“He was about 8 or 9 the first time he started playing flag football and he was just smoking everybody on the field,” Rapp’s father Chris said. “They’d give him the ball and say go and he’d just run around people.
“They couldn’t give him the ball all the time because it would be a boring game. That’s when we knew he had some ability.”
Bellingham doesn’t produce many Division I athletes and yet the former three-star recruit from Sehome High has quickly matured into a strong safety star for the Washington Huskies.
But early on, Rapp had his doubts about a future in football.
“Growing up I didn’t see a lot of Asian football players,” said Rapp, whose father shares a German and British ancestry and whose mother Chiyan was born in China. “It was kind of like, hmmm am I going to be able to play at the next level? I was like, geez I don’t really see any Asian players in the NFL or college.”
Rapp said his biggest influence was his brother Austin, who is three years older.
Little Chinese or Asian kids come up to me quite a bit or message me on Instagram or Twitter. Or their parents will message me saying hey I have a little son and he’s Chinese and you’re his role model.
Taylor Rapp, UW safety
“I didn’t really have role models in the traditional sense to where you would say I identify with a particular guy or anything like that,” Rapp said. “Maybe Patrick Chung (the New England Patriots player who shares Chinese and Jamaican ancestry). He’s a little bit Chinese and he’s actually a safety.”
Only 19, Rapp doesn’t shy from the idea that he might be a role model to a younger generation looking for Asian-American heroes in a sport devoid of them.
“Definitely,” he said. “That comes up quite a bit. Little Chinese or Asian kids come up to me quite a bit or message me on Instagram or Twitter. Or their parents will message me saying hey I have a little son and he’s Chinese and you’re his role model.
“I don’t know how big of an impact I’m really having, but it’s definitely cool to see that and to hear that.”
Rapp, who attended a Chinese immersion elementary school for years as a youth, embraces his Asian culture. His favorite food is his mother’s homemade Chinese dumplings and he’s somewhat fluent in Mandarin.
“He’s very close to his grandmother and grandfather,” said Chris, who met and married Chiyan in Shanghai, China, before the couple moved to Canada and Atlanta where Taylor was born before settling in Bellingham.
“Taylor talks to his grandparents all the time about what life was like over there,” Chris said. “They grew up during the Mao revolutionary times. They went through a lot. Taylor has a lot of exposure to the Chinese culture.”
Rapp lifted his shirt and revealed five Chinese characters tattooed on his abdomen that have shaped his life.
“They’re from Confucius the philosopher,” Rapp said. “It’s his five virtues of how to go through life: Kindness, Justice, Morality, Wisdom and Loyalty.
“Those five characters or traits are incredibly important in how I go through life. I’m a big man on integrity and doing the right thing.”
No. 7 Washington (3-0), plays at Colorado (3-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Pac-12 opener that’s a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 championship game.
There is so much to love about Rapp.
He’s a humble small-town kid who studies finance with plans to apply to UW’s Foster School of Business.
And the 6-foot, 212-pound sophomore is a big hitter and perhaps the best tackler for No. 7 Washington (3-0), which plays at Colorado (3-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Pac-12 opener that’s a rematch of last year’s conference championship.
In that game, a 41-10 UW win, Rapp collected two interceptions, including a 35-yard pick-six, which garnered him national accolades.
“He did what he was doing all year,” co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “The ball got out on the perimeter and he held it to a minimal gain.
“He did a great job tackling and when the ball was up in the air and the opportunity was there for him to make a play, he made plays. We’ve come to expect that of Taylor and I guess that’s the highest compliment that you can give someone.”
Despite playing in a secondary that included three players chosen in the 2017 NFL draft, Rapp was selected the Pac-12 freshman defensive player of the year by the conference coaches last year.
“It was a dream come true playing with them in that secondary,” Rapp said. “It was incredible. Just playing with (Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones) – they made the game so easy. All I had to do was play my game.”
Along with junior free safety JoJo McIntosh, Rapp is the most experienced player in a defensive backfield that includes first-year starting cornerbacks Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy.
This season, Rapp is tied for third among the Huskies with 12 tackles.
“Some guys go in with a shoulder or an elbow, but when he goes in it’s like a wrestler taking down an opponent,” said co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who coaches the secondary. “He takes great angles to the football.
“And a lot of it goes to his mental side and where he’s at. He wants to kill you when he’s going to the football. He’s going to knife you down. You can teach guys angles and techniques, but when you have a guy that really wants to go and ruin your day like Taylor Rapp does, that’s when you become a special tackler.”