Jonathan Willard saves a family

Updated: July 24, 2013, 5:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Tennessee Titans rookie Jonathan "Tig" Willard played the part of hero Tuesday, rescuing a family and its dog from a burning car.

Burning Car
Courtesy Tig WillardJonathan "Tig" Willard helped to pull a woman, three children and a dog from this burning car, which quickly became engulfed on I-40 in Tennessee.

The former Clemson linebacker was traveling from South Carolina to report to the Titans' training camp in Nashville when he encountered the family in distress on Interstate 40 in Tennessee.

"I saw this car in front of me, and it had all kinds of black smoke coming out of it," Willard told TigerNet.com, which covers Clemson athletics. "I tried to speed up and get up next to the car to let them know the car was on fire."

Willard, who signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent, told the website he pulled beside the car and honked his horn to alert the female driver, who was in the car with three children and a dog, that her vehicle was in flames.

"When she pulled over, the car was really on fire at that point," Willard told TigerNet.com. "The driver, she acted like she was in some kind of daze or something. She told me that she didn't stop because she didn't think it was her car that was on fire. Another guy stopped, and we managed to get the kids and the dog out and get them to safety, and then I finally got the woman out."

Willard said Wednesday he handed an infant to the woman before pulling out another child. A second man who had stopped rescued a third child and the family's dog, and they were able to grab the woman's purse and a couple bags before the SUV exploded into flames a couple minutes later. He stayed long enough for firefighters to arrive and put out the fire.

Munchak We're proud that he got involved. He saw something, reacted in a positive way and brought good to a tough situation. We'll probably have him stand up in front of the team and explain when we get started, so we can start camp on a very positive note.

-- Mike Munchak

Willard said the car "went up quick" and that he was happy he could get the family out of the car. He said it was fortunate he stopped to help as the scene might have ended tragically if he hadn't.

"I was thinking that I was just doing what everybody else would do, but there were cars just going past us and no one else was stopping, so I don't know if that is what would happen or not," he told the website.

A Tennessee Highway Patrol report shows the SUV of Cheri Hubbard of South Daytona, Fla., caught fire and burned Tuesday afternoon near mile marker 340. The investigating trooper told Dalya Qualls, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, that the witnesses already had left before he arrived and that Hubbard did not get the names of the men who helped her.

Hubbard did not immediately return a voicemail left on her cellphone by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Coach Mike Munchak said he was proud of Willard for his heroics.

"We're proud that he got involved," Munchak told reporters. "He saw something, reacted in a positive way and brought good to a tough situation. We'll probably have him stand up in front of the team and explain when we get started, so we can start camp on a very positive note."

Cornerback Jason McCourty said it speaks highly of Willard to see something like that and put himself on the line to help save a family.

"That's pretty impressive that he was able to do that and still show up to camp on time,'' McCourty said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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