Before he was running routes for the Holy Cross football team, even before he could walk, Tariq Tongue was on the sideline at August Martin High School taking in a high-school football game.
“I remember putting him down on the old Astroturf,” said Tariq’s father, Al, who was Martin’s defensive coordinator at the time. “He was down on his knees and it was hot out and he started crying.”
It’s been a long time since Tariq has been on the August Martin sideline. He now starts at Holy Cross, where he is a senior wide receiver drawing interest from Penn State and his father is now the defensive coordinator at perennial PSAL powerhouse John F. Kennedy HS.
But some of Tariq’s earliest – and fondest – memories came on those Saturday afternoons with his father in South Jamaica, Queens.
“Those were my best years right there, running around the turf,” he said. “They just locked the gate and let me run around all over the place, just play with a football. It was cool back then.”
That’s where Tariq also got an early taste of the intensity of high school football when he was in the Martin locker room at halftime one game.
“When it got really crazy and the fire and brimstone came up,” Al said, “that was the part he didn’t really like.”
Football has always been what brought Tariq and Al together, what has helped forge their father-son bond. It is a constant source of conversation, sometimes too much for Tariq’s liking, though.
“He gets on me because I talk about it too much,” Al said. “He says ‘Dad can you call me about anything other than football?’”
And while their differences are clear as day – Al is a defensive specialist, while Tariq is a wide receiver — Tariq said there are benefits to being a coach’s son.
“I know how to read a defense because of him,” said Tariq, who played for the Springfield Rifles as a kid. “He showed me everything about it.”
Tom Pugh knows a thing or two about that dynamic. He coached his son Brian, a former Holy Cross quarterback. Pugh knows there’s something special, something ingrained in the players whose fathers are football coaches.
“Tariq knows the game,” the longtime Holy Cross coach said. “He’s been around the game a long time. That’s a big advantage, but the disadvantage is there are heightened expectations.”
Tariq hasn’t had any problems meeting those expectations. He’s attended football camps since he was 12, honing his skills at big-time schools like Penn State and Michigan State and the Sandusky Football Camp, run by former longtime Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Even when he took a break from Pop Warner football, Tariq still attended the NFL Junior Player Development program.
“I try and put him in the best peoples hands,” Al said. “A lot of times he don’t listen to me. I’ve only been doing this for 24 years now, but he don’t listen to me.”
Because he wasn’t blessed with the typical wide-receiver’s frame – he is 5-foot-9 and 162 pounds – Tariq has worked hard on trying to master the idiosyncrasies of the position to gain an edge over bigger, taller receivers.
“I take it as a challenge. It helps me to focus on my routes more,” Tariq said. “I have to really focus on speed. It makes me feel like I have to.”
That combination of knowledge and work ethic has helped separate Tariq not only from defensive backs, but also from other receivers in the CHSFL.
“If you’re a small receiver, you have to compensate for your lack of size,” Pugh said. “He catches the ball, all his routes are precise… He’s so fast and his body is a muscle.”
Those attributes are the same that made Wayne Chrebet a star, first at Hofstra University and then at the New York Jets in the 90s. And Pugh should know, he was working with the NFL team at the time.
“I saw a guy who knew how to run routes and cause separation,” Pugh said. “His separation is unbelievable. When he makes a cut, he separates…That’s why (Chrebet) became such a valuable H-back receiver.”
Tariq suffered a freak injury in the summer, fracturing his ankle and sustaining ligament damage in a scrimmage at Boys & Girls HS. Although he hasn’t missed a league game, the injury has cut down on Tariq’s production this year.
However, it’s Tariq’s intangibles that Penn State likes, according to Al, who worked the football camps at Happy Valley for 16 years. The Nittany Lions are recruiting Tariq, but have not made a formal offer as yet.
“He knows the wide receiver position very well,” Al said. “I want to make sure that it’s very clear in his mind that football is the tool to get him to the next level. He knows that we’re using football to get him an education. He’s done everything he has to do to bring himself to that level.”
Tariq still has two more regular season games left in his high-school career, and he hopes a few playoff games, as well, before he can even entertain the idea of stepping onto the field at Beaver Stadium.
But when that day comes – Tariq and Al both think it’s a when rather than an if – and Tariq is playing in front of 107,000 screaming Penn State fans, Al will be right there.
“That’s going to be unbelievable. You’ll see tears in my eyes because that’s it,” Al said. “When that comes to fruition, that’s going to be a big day.”