Bayside (Virginia Beach, Va.) running back Taquan Mizzell is known for his lightning speed — hence his nickname, “Smoke”.
Quick feet are just one of Mizzell's valuable assets. His versatile athleticism also enables him to handle punt and kick returns.
“I can do whatever coach needs me to,” Mizzell says. “I’m determined to always be the best."
Mizzell's unflinching committment to the game was recognized earlier this year when he was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio's Alamodome on Jan. 5.
Ask Mizzell if he ever imagined his passion for the game would lead to elite play, and he candidly says, "I didn't know my life was going to explode like this."
"Like this" includes a five-star rating and No. 1 rank by Rivals for his position along with nearly two dozen college offers from the likes of UCLA, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Virginia, where Mizzell will play next fall.
Below, Mizzell explains how his steady engagement in the game helped him achieve success.
Tell us about your initial experience with football. Did the game come naturally?
Mizzell: I was about 8 when I first stepped onto the field, and I played running back. I was scared of getting tackled so I’d always try to run from people. The following year, I got used to the contact. I was more comfortable, and instead of running away, I became way more aggressive. That’s when football just came to me.
What did football mean to you at that age and how has your perspective shifted?
Football was always fun. I liked football, but I didn’t think I loved it. If it was taken away from me, I wouldn’t have been hurt. Now it’s something I want to make a career out of. If the game was taken away from me, I’d be deeply hurt because I love football.
What have you sacrificed to feed your passion?
To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to be a basketball player. I played varsity as a freshman, but I gave up basketball so I could focus more on football. At my height, I knew it’d be hard to make it in basketball. By giving it up, I had more time to train for football. Some people just play the game just because. Others take the game more seriously. You can tell those who are trying to make football a lifestyle.
What distinguishes a player who’s in the game just for the fun versus a player who wants to make football a lifestyle?
For someone who is out there just to be out there, when the game gets very competitive, he backs down. Someone who is trying to make football a lifestyle is always working. He doesn’t take any days off. He knows the game is only going to get harder and harder, but he doesn’t back down.
Reflecting on your high school experience, what advice can you share with athletes who are striving higher?
Don’t get discouraged and keep working. At the end of the day, hard work always pays off. With hard work, anything is possible. You just have to set goals.