Niceville remembers former player who died in kickoff classic game 4 years ago
NICEVILLE – The inside of the Niceville athletic complex is nothing special upon first sight.
The décor is institutional with the occasional display of school spirit thrown up on the wall. The smell is that of sweat and mildew fighting the never-ending battle with industrial strength cleaning products.
But once you make your way through a corridor, past the assistant coaches’ offices and around the corner to the meeting room and trophy cases just outside coach John Hicks’ office, there lies a message.
The message is simple.
Niceville High School will never forget Taylor Haugen.
Haugen, a former Niceville football player that tragically died from a hit to the body he suffered in Niceville’s kickoff classic against Fort Walton Beach four years ago Thursday, will have his No. 80 jersey retired at halftime of the Eagles’ home opener against visiting East Gadsden tonight. Haugen’s jersey will be the first to be retired in school history.
Niceville has commemorated Haugen in a multitude of ways. The school’s gymnasium was named in his honor and rubber wristbands emblazoned with his name, jersey number and a mantra his father, Brian Haugen, said his son lived by, “Don’t quit…Never give up” can still be found on student’s wrists four years later.
A poster containing that phrase, along with a painting, a large framed photo and the visor from the former wide receiver’s helmet lie in the trophy case. The soon-to-be-retired jersey will enter the case in the near future as well, said Hicks.
Hicks still gets visibly emotional about the subject, said this is a plan that has been about a year in the making.
“There’s a lot of pain,” Hicks said, “a lot of grief involved in that and it just took some time for us to get to this point, and we certainly wanted to let his senior class graduate, so it’s kind of the factors that played into the timing.”
Haugen, who was better known as “T” to those close to him, was known for his positivity, faith, effort and outgoing attitude. The Taylor Haugen Foundation has been created to honor Haugen. The foundation provides grants, education and funding to athletic teams and schools and presents the Taylor Haugen Trophy and scholarship annually in conjunction with the All Sports Association. The award is given to the local student-athlete that best exemplifies a balance of academics, athleticism, leadership, faith and community service.
“I think the reason we’re retiring his jersey is because of the impact he’s had on the community,” Hicks said. “Sure, the football program is a big part of it, but it’s not just that. We’ve had a lot of guys that have had an impact on the football program, but probably nobody that’s had as much impact on people and the community.”
Tonight’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Eagle Stadium.
PAT FLYNN / Daily News