For Wisconsin 2017 recruit Jonathan Taylor, Madison was about Ron Dayne, Corey Clement and destiny
So it might not have been written in the stars. But it was written in PowerPoint, ages ago, as part of an eighth-grade social studies assignment.
Nearly four years after the fact, Jonathan Taylor isn’t 100 percent sure what the project — pick a college you’d like to attend one day and why — had to do with social studies, exactly. Whatever. He remembers it being fun. And he remembers not thinking twice.
“At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about football,” New Jersey’s modern single-season prep rushing leader told Land of 10 with a laugh. “I just wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin. It was just a love-for-the-school kind of thing.”
Most junior-high crushes, you grow out of. Eventually. Taylor didn’t. Long before the Salem (N.J.) High School tailback was a Badger in deed — he’ll sign and fax his letter of intent Wednesday as one of the linchpins of Paul Chryst’s 2017 National Signing Day haul — Bucky stole a tiny piece of his heart.
And never gave it back.
“I used to watch them all the time when I was younger, (in) football and basketball,” Taylor said. “There was just something about them. Since I was young, they’ve grown on me.”
Once they got word of a 6-foot Tasmanian devil bouncing off south Jersey defenders, Taylor grew on the Badgers, too:
“He is a stud,” said Montrey Wright, Taylor’s prep coach. “He is a stud, man. He (runs) the 100 meters in 10.5. He’s the hardest-working kid in the weight room. This is a kid that’s well-rounded in almost everything he does, which is pretty impressive to coach and to have.”
Taylor runs a 4.42 in the 40 and power cleans 315. He sings in the choir. He’s a member of Salem’s International Baccalaureate program, an advanced curriculum that focuses on independent thinking and college prep. Taylor is a warrior-poet in the classic sense, thoughtful and powerful, a magnet between the ears and a hammer between the hashmarks.
Salem’s finest ran for 2,815 yards this past fall, a single-season modern state record — breaking the old mark held by Hoboken’s Tyrell Dortch (2,605) in 1990. With 250 yards on 19 carries in a win over rival Woodstown on Thanksgiving Day, Taylor also toppled the south Jersey single-season rushing record of 2,510 yards that had been held for the last five years by … Corey Clement.
Yeah, you might’ve heard of him.
“But at the end of the day, I was committed to Wisconsin, so it was all good,” Taylor said of Clement, the former Badgers tailback who grew up four years his senior in nearby Glassboro, N.J., roughly 30 minutes away.
“We talk periodically now. When I went on my visit, he just helped me, showed me how to be successful at Wisconsin. (He said), ‘They like smart, fast, dependable guys. If you can do those three things, you’re golden.’”
Check. Check. Check.
And here’s the funny part: If Madison was the destination and the dream, then Clement was the muse. Because it was watching the future Badgers workhorse break ankles at Glassboro, and the accolades that followed Clement, that got a young Taylor, barely in his teens, thinking that there might be something to this football path after all.
“I’m like, ‘Wow, this guy lives right down the road from me. This is so crazy,’” Taylor recalled. “I’m like, ‘If he can do it, why can’t I?’ So (Clement) kind of jump-started me getting started with the game of football.”
He hasn’t slowed down since, rolling up 1,383 yards and 11 rushing scores as a junior, a preamble to a record-setting campaign this past fall that saw him score 35 on the ground and average a ludicrous 12.3 yards per carry. The knees fly hard and high, like pistons, blasting through flailing arm tackles. Come at an angle, Taylor shifts gears to find the corner, a straight-line terror turned diagonal nightmare.
Picking a favorite run, Wright cracked, is like picking a favorite child. But he might have to lean toward a 70-yard scamper against Woodbury (N.J.) in which Taylor “threw a guy off his back,” the coach recalled.
“A guy had him on the back of his shoulder pads, trying to horse-collar him, and he threw the guy off his back and ran the other way and scored. Pretty impressive.”
The list of collegiate suitors over the last two-and-a-half years has been equally impressive — and diverse — from Virginia Tech, Boston College and Temple to Harvard, Princeton and Yale. Having committed to Rutgers this past May, Taylor took an official visit to Madison on Oct. 15, the weekend of the Ohio State-Wisconsin contest. A fortnight after that, he flipped to the Badgers, an old flame rekindled for keeps.
“I tried to pick a school,” Taylor explained, “that had great football and great academics as well.”
And a great lineage of south Jersey boys, from Ron Dayne of Pine Hill, 43 miles northeast of Salem, to Clement and Taylor.
“It’s a blessing to be linked with those guys, just to have that opportunity,” Taylor said. “Being that it’s at Wisconsin, (with) me possibly keeping that tradition going, it’s an honor.”
It’s kismet. With cleats.