by Twm Owen
Teenage quarterback Harry Taylor has plenty of experience to call on during his rookie season with the South Wales Warriors in which he’s been throwing touchdowns for fun.
The 19-year-old product of the club’s youth system is being guided through the season by starting QB Dean Jackson and, as his dad says, the college student comes from “a football family”.
Though Taylor, from Cardiff, is in his first season of senior British American Football Association National League action he has been involved with the Llanharan-based Warriors since he was 13 and played for an “American high school style football programme” at the SGS College Bristol Academy of Sport.
For the past two years Taylor has also played non-contact flag football with the Gwent Gators in Newport something he still does for enjoyment with his friends on Friday evenings.
“I started playing flag to stay in the game and I still play on Fridays,” said Taylor who was forced to give up his place with the college’s Filton Pride team due to the cost, and the physical toll, of travelling to Bristol by train everyday from his home in Cardiff.
This season Taylor has seen action in all five of the Warriors games, during which they are undefeated in Division Two West, and has the support of his teammates, or football family, to ease him into the rough and tumble of the bottom tier of British American Football.
One of those teammates is a member of his family, step-brother Jamie Gilpin, also 19. He also played for the Filton Pride as did Taylor’s older brother Oliver, 23 having come to the college’s attention through playing in its Bristol community league with the Warriors youth side.
The three are all second generation Welsh American Footballers. Harry and Oliver’s dad (Jamie’s step-dad) Rod Taylor was an original member of Wales’ very first gridiron team the Cardiff Tigers and during his five years captaining their feared defence, during the 1980s, the team reached the very highest level of the game in the UK.
Though Rod’s playing career came to an end in the late 1980s, and the Tigers disbanded in 1992 long before Harry’s birth, he has inspired a new generation.
Taylor senior said: “I got them into the game through playing football with them and just watching the NFL and college football and they could see my enthusiasm and they’ve developed an understanding of the game. We’re a football family basically.”
Despite having played on the defensive side of the ball the former linebacker said he isn’t sorry to see Harry and Jamie on offence for the Warriors: “They are quick and agile and that kind of thing, it’s the glitzy part of football.”
No role is considered more glamorous than the QB position with the ball going through the distributor’s hands on almost every offensive snap and Taylor has had plenty of opportunity to show strength of his right arm this year.
“I’ve thrown six touchdowns,” said Taylor of his haul from the Warriors first four games though it remains an ambition to connect for a score with step brother Jamie who collected a TD pass from starter Dean Jackson in the team’s most recent victory over the Somerset Wyverns.
Taylor, who is now studying public services at Cardiff and Vale College and hopes to attend the University of South Wales in September, faced some of the UK’s top university teams while playing for the Bristol Pride as a 16-year-old.
The college has produced two players who have progressed to the NFL’s international development programme, a number who’ve gone on to play college football in the US and others who play in the semi-professional German Football League (GFL).
“It’s a lot of commitment, you have got your college work, you have to get your gym hours in and practice and also learn the playbook. The travelling back and forth was draining and I left after six months as I had no money,” said Taylor who studied sport science in Bristol.
“We played against uni teams, the French national team and a team from Germany. Lots of Pride players go on to the GFL. It was a lot of fun but after three months it started to drain on me. It was a once in a lifetime experience and you felt like a fulltime football player and you would walk around college with your kit and you had a bond with your team as you stick together and hang out together all the time.”
Having given up his place at the specialist college Taylor began playing flag football again for fun with the Gators one of a number of flag teams in south Wales.
But Taylor admits joining the Warriors has taken some adjustment: “In flag, as the QB, you have seven seconds to get rid of the ball. The major difference is you don’t have much pressure and no one is trying to hit you.”
At the Warriors Taylor is being guided by veteran Jackson whose first taste of American Football action was playing for flag teams in Newport.
The 29-year-old, who first played contact football as a wide receiver and defensive back with the Swansea Titans university team, joined the Warriors in 2011 when the team won the second division Britbowl championship.
This season the IT project manager has been handing over the reins to the offence to Taylor during games while Matt Morris has also had time in the pivotal position as well.
When on the field Jackson calls his own plays and does so from the sidelines when his understudies are under center.
He is enjoying the responsibility of bring young talent through: “We’re trying to bring Harry along and get him to take over in time as the starting QB.
“I started as a receiver with the Warriors until 2013 when the QB at the time got injured and I was asked to step in and I’ve been there since.”
Jackson said flag football, though very different to the full contact form of the game, gives players a good grounding: “It definitely gets you introduced to the game and I would rather someone coming into the team having that experience than having never played.”