SPRING VALLEY — Taggart Venegas has his mom to thank for his unique first name and the Good Lord to thank for his strong left arm.
He used that arm, along with his nimble feet, to prove to be an adept scrambling quarterback for the Hall Red Devil football playoff run.
In basketball, he was the starting point guard for a Red Devil team that won 17 games.
And on the baseball field, the Hall lefty dazzled opposing batters.
He earned all-BCR recognition in all three sports, culminating with the top prized of them all — named as the 2014 BCR Male Athlete of the Year.
He follows 2013 Hall graduate Brett Fanning with the award.
“This award wouldn’t have been possible without the coaches in all three sports. It’s every exciting and getting this award definitely humbles me,” Venegas said.
Venegas came to Hall the spring of his junior year from neighboring and rival St. Bede Academy in time for the baseball season. Having lived in Spring Valley since moving from Yorkville in fourth grade and playing with most of the Hall players in the Illinois Valley Youth Football League, it didn’t take him long to fit right in with the Red Devils.
The senior quarterback was a born leader, and the Red Devils followed him all the way to their first playoff appearance in five years and first playoff win in seven years.
He led them to a 20-7 win over host Bismark-Henning in the first round of the playoffs before losing a heart-breaking loss to Momence 21-13 at Hall.
For the season, the southpaw slinger threw for 17 touchdowns and 1,503 yards and rushed for three touchdowns and 301 yards.
Looking out over the Richard Nesti Stadium turf, where he roamed last fall, brings back a lot of good memories.
“Of course, the Friday Night Lights, coming out and seeing the stands filled, but just bonding with your team, and playing under coach Tieman. That’s something I’ll never forget. We had a great relationship,” he said.
In basketball, Venegas played a key role on a Red Devil squad that had a surprising 17-11 overall record, going 7-5 in the Three River South.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted to, losing to Bureau Valley, but winning the Colmone Classic, being the home team there, that’s always important when you win that. So that was very exciting,” he said.
“It was a lot of fun playing for coach Filippini. He’s a great coach and a great guy.”
The Hall baseball team had a similar fate as the basketball team. They had a red-hot start, before cooling and finishing with a 19-7 record, losing to St. Bede in the regional semifinals.
“I thought we had a great season, everybody contributed on the field, pitching and hitting. It was a great season overall,” he said.
A student of the game, Venegas fashioned a 5-2 record with a 1.51 ERA on the mound, doing his best to mystify opposing batters.
“I think with my mechanics I hide the ball very well,” he said. “Some hitters won’t see it until the last minute. That’s something that’s very important. I definitely watch a lot of pitchers on YouTube like Clayton Kershaw, I just try to mirror my game after him.”
The secret to the Red Devils success in all three sports was their team chemistry, Venegas said.
“We definitely bonded well,” he said. “When we were winning, the chemistry was there. But even when we had our ups and downs, we stuck together as a team and kept an even keel for the whole season.”
It’s tough for Venegas to say which sport is his favorite.
“I love all three of them. What ever the season, I enjoy all of them. The love for all thee sports is very exciting,” he said.
“That said, it’s been a lot of work. I’m somebody who believes in the saying that separation is in the preparation. I’ve put a lot of hard work in each sports, on the field and off the field.”
He first considered going to Augustana College to become a regular student. He found it he wasn’t quite ready to put the ball and glove down and will now go to Rockford College to play baseball and “start a new chapter.”
At Rockford, Venegas will be counted on for pitching talents. He says he will ready for whatever “comes my way” and have fun.
He plans to study in biology and get into secondary education and maybe one day come back to Hall to teach and coach and become the next Mr. Hanck or Mr. Bryant.
And about that first name, Taggart. It’s a storybook connection.
“A lot of people ask me about that,” he said. “My mom read it in a book when she was a teenager and it just kind of stuck with her until I was born.”
He says he likes it, because “there’s not too many Taggarts around,” but admits, “I was kind of upset when I heard (former presidential candidate) Mitt Romney’s kid was named Taggart. But, yes I like my name.”
And the Hall Red Devils liked having it in their scorebook and programs.
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