A free agent for the Tennessee Titans is being hailed a hero after he pulled a family and their dog from a burning car Tuesday night.
The dramatic rescue occurred on Interstate 40 in Roane County in east Tennessee as Jonathan “Tig” Willard was on his way from South Carolina to Nashville for training camp.
Willard, a popular linebacker from Clemson, told Nashville's News 2 that after he spotted the smoke coming from the woman's vehicle, he immediately began blowing his horn to get the driver's attention.
“Two big flames shot out the back,” Willard said.
By the time the driver of the vehicle pulled over, her vehicle was fully engulfed.
Willard and another passerby quickly sprang into action and pulled the mother, her three young children and their dog from the burning vehicle.
“I saw three small kids in the back seat,” said Willard. “So I'm thinking, hurry up and get the kids and everybody out.”
“About two minutes after they were out of the car, it blew up,” Willard said.
Willard was one of Clemson's star linebackers. He signed with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent after the 2013 NFL Draft.
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak said he just heard the story Wednesday morning, but said he was eager to hear more about it from Willard.
“Maybe we need to have him stand up in front of the team and explain what happened so we can start on an obviously very positive note,” said Munchak. “I'm proud of him, and so is the organization, that he got involved in something that could have been bad.”
The woman who was in the burning SUV told Nashville's News 2 over the phone that the act was “very heroic.” The Florida resident said most people just drove on by, so she was glad that Willard and the other complete stranger stopped to help.
When Nashville's News 2 asked Willard if he felt like a hero, he responded:
“I just feel like I was in the right place at the right time. I give all the glory to God. I just feel like I was there for a reason.”
Titans' players reported to training camp Wednesday and practice starts Thursday.