Centreville's Taylor Boose has excelled on the gridiron while helping his mother, Brenda, with his 14-year-old autistic brother, Brady. (Video by Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC.//The Washington Post)

At some point during the last three years, as he ran over and past defenders while playing fullback for Centreville High’s football team, Taylor Boose stopped fishing for answers.

Boose was just 7 years old when his father, Dorian, abandoned his family in the twilight of his professional football career, leaving the bemused boy to wonder whether he were to blame. As the years passed, each bringing fewer phone calls and just one visit, the question of whether his father would ever return gave way to anger and frustration from Boose, emotions heightened by the sight of his mother tirelessly working to piece life back together for him and his autistic younger brother, Brady.

Ten years later, a 17-year-old Boose has chosen to trade his pain for purpose, assuming the role as man of the household while using football as his outlet.

But when the sport was taken away from him for a brief stretch this fall because of a muscle condition that left him convulsing in cramps, the high school senior briefly allowed himself to begin questioning his fortune again.

“It really stressed me out,” Boose said of being sidelined for three weeks following Centreville’s season opener. “I found myself at random times being angry with myself because it was a frustrating situation. But I think God has put me in these situations for a reason. I know he won’t give you a situation that you can’t handle, so I guess I take it as a compliment and use it as motivation to go hard and help out those around me.”

Buoyed by that attitude, Boose has pushed himself to shoulder an extra load both at home and on the field during the past year. After committing to play at Cincinnati in July, which alleviates the potential burden on his mother to pay for college, and returning from his ailment last month, Boose has rushed for 1,214 yards and 20 touchdowns entering Friday’s game between No. 8 Centreville and Patriot in the Virginia 6A North region quarterfinals.

Taylor Boose, left, eats dinner with his mother, Brenda Boose, while his younger brother, Brady Boose, 14, plays a tablet football game. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Taylor Boose, right, has helped his mother during his brother Brady’s development. Brady, left, has autism and is a freshman at Centreville, where Taylor is a senior. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Stepping up early

Boose can remember visiting the NFL locker rooms as a pint-sized shadow of the 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive lineman he knew as “Dad.” Even as Hall of Fame coaches and players such as Bill Parcells and Bruce Smith walked by, the then-5-year-old Boose didn’t fully understand the idea of having a father who played in the NFL.

“I thought it was cool that I got to watch him play on TV and in big stadiums, but I don’t think I realized he was a big professional,” Boose recalled. “It was a lot of fun at the time.”

The glamour of playing on Sundays also brought its share of trials for the Booses. Two years after Taylor’s parents were married and a year after Boose was born in 1996, Dorian played a key role in leading Washington State to the Rose Bowl. The following spring, Dorian was selected by the New York Jets in the second round of the 1998 NFL draft. In three seasons as a defensive lineman for the Jets and one with the Washington Redskins, Boose struggled with injuries, ultimately leading to his release from the Redskins on Christmas Day 2001.

After a failed attempt to join the Houston Texans the following year, Dorian began exploring a career in the Canadian Football League. Around that time, Boose’s younger brother, Brady, received a diagnosis of autism at the age of 2, news that floored the family — none more than Dorian. While Brenda Boose got their two sons settled in the Fairfax area, Dorian went north to begin training camp with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2003. But once there, Dorian began a new life in Canada and asked for a divorce.

At Brenda’s imploring, Dorian visited the next year for Boose’s eighth birthday before scaling back his presence to infrequent phone calls. Lacking the resources to engage in a legal battle for child support, Brenda estimates she has received “maybe six months of child support” from Dorian for their sons, further perplexing a family dynamic once rooted in love and plans for Christian ministry.

“Dorian was an amazing dad with a larger-than-life personality, but after how things ended in the NFL and all the pressures, I truly believe he ran from the fact that he had an autistic child. He never accepted it,” Brenda said. “He always said [Brady would] grow out of it and he’ll be fine. I had a harder time adjusting at first, but the more I read, the more I realized that was going to be God’s plan, and that was hard to do at first.”

Just as hard was seeing her oldest son’s hopes raised and then shattered by his father’s frequent yet empty promises to visit . As reality began to set in, so too did the challenge of adjusting to Brady’s condition. Between Brady’s therapy sessions, Boose would help his mother around the house while attempting to serve as another voice of reason during his brother’s tantrums.

“When Brady was younger, he was far, far more of a handful,” Brenda said. “A lot of times we couldn’t even go out, and Taylor didn’t get to do a lot of things that other kids got to do. But I think that formed him on a patient level.”

Though some days are better than others, Brady’s development has vastly improved. He’s a 14-year-old freshman at Centreville who possesses his father’s height — he’s 6-2 and wears a size 16 shoe — and looks.

“He’s a spitting image of his father,” Brenda said.

Although Boose hasn’t spoken to his father in more than a year, he has taken after Dorian on the football field, finding comfort in the sport that, at least indirectly, played a role in his father’s absence.

“I never understood how a man could leave his kids,” said Boose, who began playing football at the age of 7. “I don’t want to be anything like my dad, but I’ve always liked football. It takes your mind off things, and you can take all your anger and frustration out there on the field.”

Taylor Boose was the primary running back for Centreville during the regular season in a backfield beset by injuries. (Richard A. Lipski/For the Washington Post)

Boose now splits carries with All-Met A.J. Turner, who missed the first nine games of the season with a wrist injury. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Shouldering the load

While Boose stops short of connecting that approach with his fierce, explosive run style, it helped play a role in his rise up Centreville’s depth chart.

Because of his affinity for contact and a logjam of rushers in the Wildcats’ wing-T offense, Boose began his sophomore year as a starting outside linebacker. Midway through the 2012 season, starting fullback Christian Martey tore an anterior cruciate ligament, opening the opportunity for Boose to gain more carries alongside fellow sophomore A.J. Turner.

When Martey decided to transfer the next season, Boose relentlessly worked during the offseason to improve his skills and transform his body into its current 5-11, 200-pound frame so he could pursue his desire to play running back in college.

“We ended up relying on the kid who put in the most work in the offseason,” Wildcats Coach Chris Haddock said. “In most cases, he’d be the guy, but it just so happened we had another phenomenal running back in A.J. But with Taylor’s personality, he’s okay with that, and he’s a workhorse that’s going to give you his best effort every time.”

Serving as the thunderous complement to Turner’s lightning-quick speed, Boose rushed for 1,162 yards and 11 touchdowns to help lead the Wildcats to the Virginia 6A state title last year.

“Last season was a great experience, and I made sure everything I did was 110 percent,” Boose said. “I realized there was no man in the house and I had to do something, so I decided that I wanted to go as far as I could with football to help out my family.”

Boose’s readiness was again tested this season when Turner suffered a wrist fracture that required surgery and sidelined him for nine weeks. But after experiencing cramps during a season-opening loss to Gonzaga on a humid night, intense pain began shooting through Boose’s muscles in the locker room, crippling him into the fetal position.

What initially appeared to be severe dehydration was found to be a treatable condition called rhabdomyolysis, in which damaged muscle tissue breaks down and releases harmful toxins into the bloodstream.

For three weeks, Boose underwent multiple blood tests to check his creatine kinase levels, all the while gulping down Ga­tor­ade, coconut water and other liquids to regain the eight pounds he had lost. Since Boose returned Oct. 2, five other Wildcats starters have missed time because of injury. But Boose responded in kind, manning the feature tailback spot and averaging 187.4 yards in five games despite sitting out six quarters in blowout wins.

“Taylor’s always worked hard, so he was ready when the opportunity came because of his work,” said Turner, an All-Met who is committed to South Carolina.

With Turner now back in the fold, Boose has shifted back to fullback. The duo have quickly returned to their productive ways, combining for 450 yards and nine touchdowns in the past two games and again demonstrating Boose’s ability to make the most of any situation, no matter whether he’s shouldering or sharing the load.

“I’ve always tried to tell Taylor there’s a reason and a purpose for everything and you can be a better person for having these challenges you’ve had,” Brenda said. “He’s been without his father and had people tell him he can’t be a college running back, but he’s taken it all and worked hard to become a good player and young man of character.”