Healthy outlook for Taggart, Holy Cross

Expectations higher for emerging QB, and his team

By Nicole Auerbach
Globe Correspondent / August 31, 2011

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WORCESTER - Ryan Taggart knows patience.

A lot of other college football players don’t; they transfer or complain when they aren’t getting enough playing time.

But not Taggart.

At Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, Taggart learned how to be a backup quarterback and wait for his turn.

“I was behind some great players there,’’ Taggart said. “We had a multiyear starting quarterback there [Trevor Vittatoe] - he actually just got picked up by the Bears. Sophomore year, [state] semifinals. Junior year, we won state. That was me on the sideline, watching them compete.’’

As a senior, Taggart led Trinity to an 11-1 record and was named to the all-district first team. Trinity’s loss was to the nation’s top team.

“Senior year was my turn,’’ Taggart said. “That’s just the way it was.’’

Then he went to Holy Cross, where Taggart’s patience was tested once again. The quarterback ahead of him, Dominic Randolph, wasn’t just good. He was phenomenal.

By the time Randolph left Holy Cross in the spring of 2010, he had become the Crusaders’ and the Patriot League’s all-time leader in total offense, passing yards, touchdown passes, completions, and pass attempts.

Talk about a tough act to follow - even for a guy who basically did the same thing in high school.

“I get here, and Dom was the quarterback,’’ Taggart said. “He was still young at the time. He develops into this great player, we have a great team, and I end up getting a ring [as the 2009 Patriot League champions].

“Then, it’s my shot.’’

Last season, Taggart beat out Kevin Watson and Mark Tolzein to be the Crusaders’ starter for Week 1.

Taggart was healthy for about two games before suffering a string of injuries, including a Grade 1 strain in his throwing shoulder. Still, he started all 11 games, completing 185 of 317 passes for 1,899 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also rushed for 284 yards and five scores on 85 carries. Watson and Tolzein rotated into games, too.

Holy Cross finished tied for second in the Patriot League with a 3-2 conference record (6-5 overall).

“I think anyone you throw in there after a guy who’s basically a once-in-a-generation level quarterback, then all the sudden there’s a new guy on the block, it was just a tough situation,’’ Crusaders coach Tom Gilmore said. “He had a good year, but he wasn’t Dom Randolph so outside our program, a lot of people probably felt that it was a dropoff. It was just different.’’

Taggart said he enjoyed watching Randolph play, and they still keep in touch. Taggart has heard the comparisons but the new quarterback has no hard feelings for the old one.

“He was a great player here, did a lot of great things, set a lot of records,’’ Taggart said. “This is a different team. That’s how it is every year at every school in the country.

“You understand there’s always expectations other people have for you, but I think what you’ll find for any quarterback is your own expectations are higher than anyone else’s.’’

Those expectations - both in and out of the program - appear to be higher this season.

Gilmore said Taggart is surrounded by more skilled players this year, and he expects the offense to score more points.

And another year removed from the Randolph legacy, Taggart looks like a different quarterback.

For one, he’s healthy.

“[My body] was just physically damaged,’’ Taggart said, referring to last fall’s ailments, which included shoulder separations and ligament stress in his foot.

“It was really just a painful season, just had to fight through it. Going into every game, we’d warm up, and I’d have to get a shot in the shoulder. It was just a pain.’’

Taggart said he feels a lot healthier. That has translated to an improved performance during practice.

“You can see it already,’’ Gilmore said. “You already see the confidence. He’s a lot sharper already. He’s another year more mature. He’s healthy for the first time in almost a whole year. He’s moving around well. He’s throwing the ball better.

“He’s just performing at a higher level already.’’

Part of that comes from Taggart knowing he has the starting spot locked down so there’s no uncertainty. He also has had a year’s worth of games and practices to develop relationships with receivers and running backs.

Gilmore said he’s seen Taggart emerge more as a quiet, confident leader, too.

After all, this is Taggart’s team now.

“He’s actually got a very good personality for a quarterback,’’ Gilmore said. “He doesn’t let things get to him that easily, and he certainly doesn’t show it outwardly. He’s got that aura to him. He’s very reserved, very professional.

“On the field, he’s the same way. He doesn’t get rattled that easily. I think with him having the confidence and the year of experience under his belt, I think he’s just going to be even more at ease.’’