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Quarterback Taylor Heinicke’s twisting career path offers lessons

Heinicke bounced around the NFL and wasn’t playing when the Commanders called. This season he stepped in as starting QB.

Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke, right, skips away from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner during an October 30 game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Heinicke threw an interception, but then led the Commanders to a victory. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

After a slow start, I thought I would not write about the Washington Commanders for the rest of the National Football League (NFL) season. I changed my mind because of Taylor Heinicke.

Heinicke was the backup quarterback for the Commanders. He became the Number 1 guy after the team’s starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, hurt his throwing hand. Heinicke has led the Commanders to close wins over the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts. Washington now has a respectable record of 4-4 (4 wins, 4 losses).

But Heinicke is not just an NFL quarterback and fan favorite. He offers great lessons for kids and especially kids who like sports.

First lesson: Don’t give up. I know you’ve heard that one before, but Heinicke shows why it is true. Heinicke played college football at Old Dominion University (2011 to 2014). He threw for 132 touchdowns and ran for 22 more but was not drafted by any NFL team.

Heinicke bounced around the NFL for years but could not stick with any one team (he was released five times). In 2020, he was living with his sister, sleeping on her couch, and taking courses in advanced math.

The Washington Football Team called, and Heinicke got another chance to play. Which bring us to the second lesson.

Be ready. When Heinicke got his chance during the 2021 season, he played well. Not Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady great, but good enough to show he belonged in the NFL.

Don’t be one of those players who is always complaining that you should be playing more but when you get a chance you perform badly. Keep working hard so when your opportunity comes you can seize it.

Focus on the future, not the past. In both of those Packers and Colts games, Heinicke started poorly, throwing interceptions at crucial times. He didn’t slam his helmet and get down on himself or his team, he bounced back.

After an interception in the Colts game, Heinicke led the Commanders on two long drives (82 and 89 yards) to win the game. During those two drives, Heinicke completed 12 out of 14 passes for 151 yards. That’s bouncing back.

Finally, focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. Heinicke is not a perfect player. He is small for an NFL quarterback and doesn’t have a strong arm. But he can move around in the pocket and passes well on the run. Most important, Heinicke seems to be the kind of enthusiastic competitor who inspires his teammates.

Not every player can be the star of the team. But every player can find a way to use their skills to help the team in some way.

Just as Taylor Heinicke is helping the Washington Commanders.

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 27 sports books for kids. His most recent football book is “Gridiron: Stories From 100 Years of the National Football League.”