Taking a handoff against rival Annapolis High School as the running back for the Broadneck Bruins in 1990.

As a child, I often felt the void left by my biological father’s absence. His decision to walk out on the family and me immediately impacted some of what I still work through today. He wasn’t there to play football with me, something I cherished intensely doing with him as I waited for him to come home from work while throwing the football in the air patiently. I remember those fun days when we used to play in the front yard and on the street, where I would dive to catch the ball and pretend I was an NFL player catching some ridiculous sidelines catch. Those moments are some of my fondest memories with him, and they were cut short.

However, life has a way of filling gaps in unexpected ways. Steve, my neighbor, stepped into that role during my formative years in ways he might not have known the impact, and for what reason, I’ll never know. At the time, I certainly didn’t comprehend its effect on me. Steve was only a few years older than me, yet I admired him for his role in my life. He always made time to play football as he lived only a few houses down the street. Our bond was through football and further solidified by our shared love of rock music and, in particular, Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a song that still brings back those memories of our time playing together as teenage kids.

One instance stands out vividly about Steve. During high school, I was the starting running back on our football team, and Steve would always practice with me, whether handing the ball off,trying to force a fumble, or throwing me passes. Steve, always the mentor, encouraged me to practice even in less-than-ideal conditions. I recall a rainy day when he came to my house as if it were yesterday. I can still visualize walking to the front door and seeing him as the main door was open, and I could see him through the screen door. He wanted me to come out and play football and practice handoffs in the rain! I wasn’t keen on practicing in the rain, but Steve’s words have stuck with me since: “Dave, football games don’t stop in the rain, and that is when you need to practice the most.” I don’t know my response, but I know I was out there practicing with Steve in the rain, taking handoff after handoff.

The front yard of what was my house (still looks the same) as a kid where Steve would practice handoffs.

His advice proved invaluable and set the foundation for how I would approach many aspects of my life, from leadership, to physical and mental preparation, to the power of training hard and working hard for what you want to achieve and the impact we sometimes don’t even know we are having on others’ lives.

Leadership Lessons from the Front Yard

1. Consistent Preparation: Steve’s insistence on practicing in all conditions taught me the value of consistent preparation. Leaders must face challenges head-on, no matter the circumstances. We should never take something for granted because we might have done it numerous times. I believe in rehearsing, rehearsing, and rehearsing again, no matter how many times we might have done something.

2. Resilience: Playing football in the rain was about more than just practice; it was about building resilience. In leadership, resilience helps you navigate through tough times and emerge stronger.

3. Mentorship: Sometimes, mentors come from unexpected places. Steve wasn’t a coach or a formal leader, but his influence shaped my approach to challenges, dedication to a goal, and preparation. Leaders should recognize and embrace mentorship roles, even outside of formal structures. Steve was a neighbor and friend only a handful of years older than me, providing a lasting impact.

4. Pushing Boundaries: Steve drove me to practice in the rain, taking me out of my comfort zone. Influential leaders push themselves and their teams to explore new limits and achieve greatness beyond their perceived capabilities.

5. The Value of Hard Work: Leaders should emphasize the importance of hard work and its role in achieving significant milestones. I believe in working “smarter, not harder,” but I also think that if you want to accomplish certain milestones or goals, you must work hard to get there.

Reflecting on these experiences, I realize that leadership is not just about being in charge; it’s about inspiring and preparing others for success. Steve’s mentorship during my high school football days influenced my leadership style and how I pursue personal goals. Whether preparing for a mission in the army, a critical business presentation, guest speaking, guiding a team through a challenging project, or their first mountain summit attempt, the lessons from those rainy practice sessions remain ever relevant.

A Record-Breaking Day

Unbeknownst to me, Steve prepared me for this moment, demonstrating the importance of his mentorship. He was preparing me for a moment that he believed would come someday. In my senior year, during the last game of the season and what would be my last organized football game, Steve’s mentorship and belief in me all came to a head.
During the season’s final game, I rushed for the most yards I had ever done in a game,189, and also broke the single-season school rushing record—in the rain.

I still cherish this, and yes, those 25yds.

I don’t know what happened to Steve, as life took us different paths. I tried to locate him a few years back, as later in life, I started to realize the importance his role in my life as a teenager played in shaping me into who I became and who I am today as a leader, father, son, and friend. It is a good reminder that our interactions with others can have a lasting impact, just like Steve’s did, and continues to have on me.

Written by Dave Taylor, CEO-LDR Leadership & Retired Army Ranger