With his selection for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, former Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor will go where no University of Akron football player has gone before.



Taken in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft, Taylor took his determination to football’s largest stage and it comes full circle with his induction in August.



“I never thought I’d get to this point,” Taylor said during a visit this past week to the hall to begin preparation for this summer’s festivities. “But to be the first from the university, hopefully, it will give them some momentum, maybe help recruiting, help inspire some kids who are there now that they can go from Akron to Canton. I know it’s not far away, but the 20 years it took to travel those 20 miles is pretty big.”





(Photo courtesy The University of Akron)

University of Akron player Jason Taylor in this undated file photo. Taylor a four-year letterman and three-year starter for the Zips was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in1997 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.


Taylor left his mark on the UA football program. It wasn’t until two seasons ago that linebacker Jatavis Brown broke his single-season sack record and he still owns the record for career sacks. After being drafted, Taylor continued to make opposing quarterbacks nervous at the pro level.



His stats include 139.5 sacks and 29 fumble recoveries to go with 525 tackles during his 15-year career — the first 11 coming with the Dolphins. Not bad for someone who started playing football his senior year of high school.



Taylor, a basketball player at the time and a self-described “6-foot-2-or-3-inch pencil,” caught the eye of then UA defensive coordinator Bob Junko, former head coach Gerry Faust said during a recent phone interview.



Facing obstacles



“We were so impressed with the family and with Jason as a person, and we felt that he would be a real good student at school and would be an excellent team player,” Faust said. “We knew he was still going to grow and he had great speed for his size. We gave him a scholarship, but we didn’t know if he’d be able to play sports until three or four weeks into the season of his freshman year.”



Taylor was home schooled, and there were legalities and entanglements with the NCAA with which he and the program had to contend.



“I remember we had to go to D.C. and do all of these legal battles,” Taylor said. “It was all new. It was a new thing. Sometimes being a pioneer is fun, sometimes it’s a pain in the butt, but it all ended well.”



As odd as it might sound, Faust took a chance bringing Taylor into the fold. Taylor arrived on campus as the infamous “athlete” recruit. The coaches knew he was athletic, but they had to find his strength and the position to use it. Although he only played the one season at Woodland Hills High School, the raw potential showed on film, Faust said. They found his place on defense.



Why take the chance?





(Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Former University of Akron player Jason Taylor, class of 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame, of the Miami Dolphins talks about his college career during a news conference at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on March 20 in Canton.


He played linebacker until his senior season then switched to defensive end. Ultimately, it paid off like a pre-iPod investment in Apple stock. He led the team in sacks for three consecutive seasons under Faust and his successor, Lee Owens, held the aforementioned single-season sack record until the 2015 season and still holds the record for career sacks with 21.



“He had great insight into where the ball was and where it was going to end up and that’s really something you can’t teach,” Faust said.



“When I recruited Jason out of the Pittsburgh area, his family was first and they had a great love for one another,” he said, “and that’s why I knew he was going to be a great football player because to be a great football player, you have to be a team and family player.”



Faust, who said he paid as much attention to a recruit’s family and how they interact with one another when he coached, proved prophetic.



Growing in confidence





(Photo courtesy The University of Akron)

University of Akron player Jason Taylor makes the tackle in this undated file photo. Taylor, a four-year letterman and three-year starter for the Zips, was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1997 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.


Taylor’s junior season brought him a revelation. After attending the UA pro day that year, he saw that he could compete with anyone else on the field.



“Obviously, you don’t see that talent on a weekly basis in the MAC,” Taylor said, “but I just wanted a shot. Get me to the Blue-Gray Game or the Senior Bowl and give me a shot on that stage and I will show you that I can compete.”



He got that Senior Bowl invitation after his final season and opened enough eyes to be selected in the NFL Draft’s third round.



As it turns out, Taylor proved to be a late bloomer. As he put it, “blind confidence, stupidity and cockiness” contributed to him thinking he had a future at the next level. The goals started modestly — making a roster, playing special teams and earning a few bucks and going back to school.



Shared experiences



However, struggle oftentimes shows the way to greater things. In the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017, Taylor shares that with some of his fellow inductees. Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis lasted until the sixth round of the 1995 draft. St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner wasn’t drafted at all.



Taylor, who coaches youth football, said he’s seen his share of entitled players in that realm.



“A lot of guys don’t always have that and I think being doubted, being slighted a little bit, not being drafted high and them thinking so many players are better than you, I think that just drives you,” he said. “It’s that competitiveness that makes you want to prove people wrong ... I wanted to be the best anyway. I always hated losing more than I liked winning and then people doubted me and I always like proving people wrong.”



George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.