Quarterback Justice Taylor has spent plenty of time around the Lakewood High School football program.
In his early years as a youth player, his dad, Jason Taylor, coached Lakewood’s youth program while running an offense similar to the high school team’s.
Then, as a seventh-grader, Justice got the chance to watch his older brother, Jared Taylor, begin his journey at quarterback for the Cougars. Two years later, Justice had a front row seat in watching Jared help Lakewood become a Class 2A power, including his senior year when he racked up 2,495 total yards and 33 touchdowns while leading the Cougars to the state quarterfinals and a 9-2 record.
It was a season that truly put Lakewood on the map as one of the top 2A programs in the state as it battled through the ultra-tough Northwest 2A Sky Division with only one league loss.
Now, it’s Justice’s turn to keep ball rolling for Lakewood as he prepares to lead a talented team ranked No. 3 in 2A in the Associated Press Washington state preseason high school football poll.
“We can basically do whatever we want,” Taylor said. “It’s in our hands. We can go as far as we want.”
If the spring season was any indication, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior quarterback appears to have what it takes to get the job done.
Justice amassed 1,063 total yards and 15 touchdowns over just five games while showing the same dual-threat capabilities that made his brother an all-state player.
“To accomplish all of that in the midst of COVID when we didn’t have regular workouts and he still competed at a high level, that shows his mental toughness as well as his physical toughness,” Lakewood coach Dan Teeter said. “I’m just very proud of him.”
Teeter expects Justice to take another step forward this year.
“Even though it’s just been a few months since we just played our short season, I think he’s grown leaps and bounds in the passing game,” Teeter said. “So I’m really excited to see what he gets done this year.”
Justice credited his success in part to the help he’s received from his older brother along the way.
As a freshman and sophomore, Justice said the biggest things Jared taught him were with his footwork and decision-making in the Lakewood offense.
During the spring season, Justice said he’d call Jared after every game. And though Jared was over 700 miles away playing football at Feather River College in Quincy, California, he never missed an opportunity to watch his little brother play on Lakewood’s live streams.
Jared said his advice was usually simple.
“Just go play football,” he said. “Respect your opponent. Lineup every game like it’s someone that you gotta work as hard as you can to beat.”
Though it was simple, it proved to be effective.
“That really helped me a lot,” Justice said. “So I plan on doing that this year, too.”
It helps that Justice is able to receive advice from someone that plays the game the same way he does. The similarities between the brothers’ playing styles are abundant.
Both are capable passers that can hurt teams through the air, and both are physical runners that can burn teams on designed runs and by going off-script when playcalls don’t pan out.
“An athlete that can hurt you with the arm and the legs makes a coach look pretty smart, because we can call things and it may break down and he just turns it into a great play,” Teeter said. “So it’s definitely a huge advantage to have a guy that’s dual-threat like he is.”
Neither Justice, Jared or Teeter could point to a true difference in the quarterbacks’ games aside from Justice being left-handed and Jared a righty.
“I don’t know if there’s much difference in the play style,” Jared said. “I think we both … just have that kind of confidence and maybe even a little arrogance to know that we’re gonna get the job done.”
Lakewood hopes that there won’t be much difference between the brothers’ senior seasons either.
The Cougars will certainly be tested, just as they were in 2019, with a gauntlet of a schedule that features eight teams that made the state playoffs at least once since 2016. And Justice, a second-team all-league quarterback in the spring, will have plenty of help surrounding him in trying to replicate the success his brother and the Cougars had two seasons ago.
But regardless of how this year turns out, it’s been a special experience at Lakewood for the Taylor brothers.
“I don’t really tell him that often, but I’m proud of him and everything,” Jared said of his brother. “I know he’s gonna work hard and play good this season, and I’m excited to watch him.”