DELHI TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Mount St. Joseph University redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Taylor is inspired by his late father, James, every day.
Each morning represents a new opportunity for Josh to fulfill a promise he made to the man who inspired him in sports and in life.
"That was always his thing to be great no matter what you do - go 100%," Josh Taylor said. "I told him I was going to come here and just be great. And everything I do is going to be for him and for the family."
James Taylor, a former pastor at Faith Chapel Ministries in Bethel, died Aug. 20, 2020 - 19 days after Josh's 20th birthday.
James Taylor battled health conditions that included cancer and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He was just 49.
However, his legacy of faith, family and courage is ever-present.
"Dad is always there," said Connie Taylor, Josh's mother and James' widow. "He is always around. We just can't see him. But we know he is there."
There are plenty of reminders.
Josh Taylor, one of six siblings, wears a #TaylorStrong T-shirt under his jersey every Saturday in remembrance of his father.
There is a photo of father and son from Josh's Western Brown High School days on his lock screen. The family cherishes the photos from over the years.
"He was my biggest supporter, biggest fan," Josh Taylor said. "He'd blow everything up on Facebook."
There is no doubt James is smiling and sharing the good news at what his son has accomplished this spring.
Josh Taylor, a 2019 Western Brown graduate, has a 61% percent completion percentage for the Lions (3-1).
He's thrown for 723 yards and six touchdowns. He has 77 carries for 548 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns.
"I can only imagine the cheering that goes on in heaven on Saturdays," said Connie Taylor.
Josh Taylor rushed for a single-game school record five touchdowns twice already this season.
He accounted for seven touchdowns in a 56-19 road win over Franklin March 20.
"I wanted to call him (James) so bad," Josh said. "And it's kind of like in those moments when you realize you can't. That's when it kind of hits you the most and that's when it gets hard."
'A born leader'
There was never a doubt James was Josh's No. 1 fan. James helped Josh with travel baseball and through the college football recruiting process.
Father and son loved to golf, play Wiffle Ball, cornhole or a Madden video game. James was a history buff who passed along that knowledge to Josh, who now wants to become a history teacher.
Family has meant everything to Josh - one of six siblings - since an early age. The Taylor family has fostered over 250 children over the years.
There was something that linked father and son beyond sports.
James never knew a stranger. He spoke to a congregation and inspired others. Josh learned those traits and took them to heart.
"He's just a born leader," Connie Taylor said. "I feel that he keeps his ability to stay humble. And in that he is just doing great things and achieving great things. Of course he first gives God all the glory for that but then he really goes the extra mile to make dad proud."
Josh Taylor started his college career at the University of Pikeville but moved closer to home due his father's health.
Taylor's family believes MSJ was the perfect fit at the right time in his life.
"Luckily I've got a good support system here," Taylor said. "My mom is the strongest woman I know and I can always count on her. My brothers and sisters and yeah, the people here are great too."
Josh quickly earned the respect of teammates.
"I know they (Josh and James) were really close," MSJ head coach Tyler Hopperton said.
"And now that he has this opportunity, I know it's just really hard to sink in that his dad is not here to watch it. And so I think he wears that on his sleeve every day in the sense of that approach, and I think that's what helps guys buy in is that 'I'm here, I'm going to make the most of it - I've got something to prove all the time mentality.' And that sense of urgency is usually what successful people have."
MSJ offensive coordinator Caleb Corrill and his wife, Jamie, were driving home from a vacation in Hilton Head last summer when Taylor's name arose.
Corrill, 31, recruited Taylor. He knew what the 6-foot, 205-pound quarterback was capable with either running or throwing the football.
But, at that moment last summer he told Jamie he felt responsible for helping the young quarterback off the field, too.
"It was just one of those things where it was like this kid is under my wing and I could hear what his dad told me the last time I talked to him," Corrill said.
Corrill attended a family gathering in Mount Orab in support of Josh.
"It's definitely taken me out of my own focus of what I have to do and it's more like, 'Hey, you've to sacrifice and give up for other people all the time even in the toughest of situations,'" Corrill said.
Corrill didn't know if his role was considered a brother, uncle, coach or simply a friend because of the age gap. Maybe it was all of the above. It really didn't matter.
"Coach Corrill has been amazing," Connie Taylor said. "He was there for Josh as a coach and I think he formed a special relationship and bond in the sense of knowing what he was going through and just taking on that responsibility of a mentor role."
There have been difficult moments. Buying football cleats reminded Josh of his father. In November, Taylor excelled at an intrasquad scrimmage. Emotions overcame him.
"I said, 'Man, this is divine intervention,'" Corrill said. "'That's the hand of your pops.'"
Taylor feels grateful for the opportunity to play a sport he dearly loves for a family and extended family who is always there for him.
"He's obviously a talented young man," Corrill said. "He works really hard but his ability to bring people together it's got to come from his dad. His dad held a congregation every Sunday. I don't know if Josh has any interest in that but that's what he is. He brings people together. He steps in and it's his sermon."