Speaking to scouts and coaches just after the Rams selected Taylor Rapp at No. 61 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, a couple aspects of the safety's personality stood out from each individual:
Rapp is serious about football and he loves the game.
The 21-year-old who grew up about an hour and a half north of Seattle in Bellingham, Wash. just arrived in Los Angeles on Monday — along with the 29 other members of the Rams' rookie class. And even in a 15-minute interview, it's easy to see Rapp's passion for the sport.
Rapp traces it back to his time growing up in Northern Washington, even to the earliest moments of playing flag football in grade school.
"I don't know if I have anything specific, but I think just the first time that I was out on the football field playing flag football — when I stepped out on the football field for the first time, I immediately fell in love with it and knew that I was almost — that I was meant to play this game. You know? I was put on this earth to play this game," Rapp said in an interview with therams.com this week. "I'm very passionate about the game. It's just something I take pride in every time I step on the football field, that I'm giving maximum effort, doing everything I can."
That passion carried him through his time at Sehome High School, where he played both safety and running back. But he settled on safety, becoming one of the top recruits at his position not only in the state, but also on the West Coast.
Rapp says he elected to go about an hour-and-a-half south down the state to play his college ball at Washington for a variety of reasons — for his family to watch be able to watch his games in person, and what head coach Chris Petersen was beginning to build after coming over from Boise State in 2014.
"I knew something was going right, so I didn't want to miss out," Rapp said of the choice. "And then I had an amazing time at the University of Washington. Those were three of the best years of my life — I wouldn't change anything."
He was an impact player from the get-go as a Huskie, intercepting four passes as a true freshman in 2016 — including back-to-back passes in the 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game against Colorado. But Rapp ended up becoming the kind of safety who could make plays both in coverage and in the box, totaling seven interceptions and 6.0 sacks in his collegiate career.
Then the day after Washington participated in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, Rapp decided he'd forego his final year of college eligibility to head to the league.
"I knew that decision was lingering in the back of my mind," Rapp said. "After the last game, the Rose Bowl, I sat down with my family. I talked with my coaches — coach Petersen, and coach [Jimmy] Lake my position coach — and ultimately we wanted to determine if I was ready both mentally and physically for the next level, for me to leave early because I still had another year of eligibility. And it was the consensus that I was ready both mentally and physically.
Rapp added that he knew it was the right choice, "Just [based on] the past three years of my college career, how well I know the game, how prepared I am for the game, and just reflecting on my past three years, my game film — all that stuff — my production. And then just talking to some older guys, too, in the league — older guys like [Arizona's] Budda Baker, [Philadelphia's] Sidney Jones, or [Green Bay's] Kevin King, asking them, 'What's the next level like? What's the biggest difference?' And they said one of the biggest differences is the mental aspect of the game. So I feel like I take a lot of pride in the mental aspect before every game. And so I thought I was ready and I made that decision."
As draft day approached, Rapp did go on a top-30 visit with the Rams — an experience he greatly enjoyed. The safety said it was one of his favorite trips and he fell in love with the organization, noting he could tell that everything was run in a first-class manner.
So when he received the call from general manager Les Snead, sitting at his parents' house in Bellingham on Day 2 of the NFL Draft, Rapp was ecstatic.
"I was there with just my close family, just watching the draft. And when I did get that call, it was — I can't even really describe it," Rapp said. "I don't think anyone can really describe it, that feeling when you get that call and someone's picking you in the draft — it's because all your hard work, and all your effort, all your work you've put in your whole life, it's finally coming true. So that moment is just indescribable."
Now that Rapp has reached the league — and that two-week waiting period between when he was drafted and arrived at the team facility is over — he's already picked up the mantras of wanting to make steady improvement day-by-day.
But given his status as one of the few Asian-Americans in the game, Rapp understands that just his presence in the league can make an impact. And he wants to use the stage he has as a professional athlete to help inspire the next generation of players who look like him to pursue their dreams.
"Growing up, there's not a lot of Asian-Americans — especially Chinese athletes — in major sports, let alone football," Rapp said. "So growing up, I never really had a role model, or someone to look up to, in football or sports. So I just want to be able to try to break that stereotype as much as possible, and let people know that Asian-Americans — no matter what you look like, you can play football no matter what. If you have a dream, and you put enough work in, anything is possible."
With Rapp's passion for the game combined with his effectiveness on the field, he's set himself up to realize his goals both between and outside the white lines in the years to come.
Check out photos of the Los Angeles Rams continuing Phase II of the offseason program.