Taylor Rapp, who can speak Chinese and has dual citizenship in U.S. and Canada, credits his toughness to his brother, Austin, a former walk-on linebacker at Washington State.
ATLANTA — After all these years, Austin Rapp can still see his little brother’s tears.
Even growing up in small-town Bellingham, where Austin says football is “dead” these days, the game was omnipresent for the Rapp boys.
Taylor Rapp, three years younger, always looked up to Austin. And he wanted to keep up with big brother and his friends, even if it meant playing the role of neighborhood guinea pig, and even if meant he took a pounding every once in awhile.
“They would always try to get me to do crazy things,” Taylor said, “and I would always be up for it.”
He was up for the big-boy stuff then, and he’s up for it now.
Taylor has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season for the No. 4 Huskies, emerging as a starting safety as a true freshman less a month into the season, and then blossoming as one of the defense’s top playmakers in Washington’s march to the Pac-12 championship.
A year after his Sehome High School football team went 2-8 during his senior season, Taylor is on the biggest stage in college football, preparing for a national semifinal against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. He doesn’t know any other way.
“We’re up for the challenge,” Taylor said at Peach Bowl Media Day on Thursday. “We want to play Alabama.”
Taylor was hardened by years of good-natured big-brother abuse.
“He took a lot from us,” Austin said in a phone interview from Bellingham. “When we were in elementary school and middle school, we were able to bully him around a little bit.
“That,” he added with a laugh, “obviously faded pretty fast.”
Taylor made varsity as a freshman at Sehome. Having grown into a solid 6-foot, 202-pound specimen, he made varsity this year for the Huskies. He did so despite breaking his left hand during the second practice of spring ball.
He simply had a club wrapped on over his hand and kept practicing. That sort of toughness goes way back to Bellingham.
“I remember when we were kids, we’d be running routes in the front yard, he would trip or something but he would still be running routes with tears in his eyes. He’s crying but he’s still out there competing,” Austin said.
It’s a toughness that impressed UW coaches early on.
“Your first day in college football, now all of a sudden you’re one-handed,” UW coach Chris Petersen said Thursday. “It’s hard enough, you know, having everything healthy. He didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t make a big deal. He kept practicing. All those little things kind of add up to, ‘Wow, this guy’s pretty impressive.’”
And it’s a toughness Taylor credits to big brother.
“He was the biggest role model,” said Taylor, who was named the most valuable player of the Pac-12 championship after his two interceptions against Colorado. “I looked up to him so much, and I still look up to him. I attribute a lot of my success in football to him.”
Austin spent one year as a walk-on linebacker at Washington State. He’s still a student at WSU, but proudly wore purple while sitting in the Cougars student section during the Apple Cup in Pullman last month, cheering on as Taylor forced a fumble early in the Huskies’ blowout victory.
“I’ve been blown away all season by what he’s done,” Austin said. “It’s really hard to imagine, especially coming from Bellingham and the high school we went to. Football’s pretty much a dead sport here. People say it’s a dying sport, but it’s been dead in Bellingham for awhile. … A lot of people around town didn’t want to give him credit.”
Austin is flying into Atlanta on Friday with his family. It’s a homecoming for the Rapp boys, who coincidentally were both born in Atlanta. Their mom, Chiyan, is from China, and she met Chris Rapp in Shanghai while he was working there. The couple moved to Toronto, then Atlanta, before relocating with the boys — then 6 and 3 — to Bellingham.
Austin and Taylor can both hold a conversation in Chinese, and like their parents they both have dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship.
From the far corner of the Northwest, near the Canadian border, where Austin says football means little to many, Taylor Rapp now finds himself some 2,200 miles from home, in the Deep South, where football has a deeper meaning to so many.
“I try to step back and take it all in because a year ago I was at Sehome High School just finishing up senior season,” he said. “I just try put it in perspective, because I would have never thought I would be in this position right now.”