ABC News’ Robyn Weil reports:
NFL rookie Jonathan “Tig” Willard hasn’t even played a game for the Tennessee Titans, but he’s already being called a hero, saving a family from their burning car.
The former Clemson University linebacker, 23, was on the road, headed to the Titans’ training camp in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday night, when he saw an SUV on the freeway in flames near Oak Ridge, Tenn.
“The car in front of me just started smoking,” Willard said. “Once I rushed to the car, I saw that there were three little kids in the back seat. The adrenaline just kicked in. I was just on ‘go’ mode.”
The car belonged to Cheri Hubbard of Boone, N.C., who was driving on Interstate 40 in Tennessee with her three young children to visit their dad when her engine suddenly caught fire. Willard pulled up beside her and honked, directing her to pull over.
Willard, along with another man, Clint Dowty from White House, Tenn., helped pull the family, including a toddler, and their pet Chihuahua to safety, as flames engulfed the vehicle.
“They’re my angels,” Hubbard said. “They were God sent. It was a miracle that they were there.”
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By the time the fire was out, there was only a charred frame of the SUV left behind.
“The whole front end of the car was just about ignited,” Hubbard said. “The tires started popping one by one. It was really scary.”
Hubbard and her sons, Ethan, 9, and Drake, 6, had no idea that Willard is also a professional football player.
“My boys are just completely stoked. My oldest plays football and he’s really excited,” she said.
For his part, Willard, a native of Loris, S.C., doesn’t want to be called a hero, he said; he just wants to play football.
“I feel like God put me in the right place at the right time because he knew that I would find it in my heart to help out,” Willard said.
It’s fair to say he made quite a first impression on his new team. Titans’ cornerback Jason McCourty told The Associated Press the incident speaks volumes about Willard’s character.
“That’s pretty impressive that he was able to do that and still show up to camp on time,” McCourty told the AP.
Said Willard: “Just about all the guys came up to me. And just said, ‘Thank you.’”
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