Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Written By: Kelechi Anozie
Details, details, details...
What separates the good from the greats, are the small details. If one were to agree that the true measure of greatness is determined by one's ability to pay attention to details, Jonathan Taylor may very well be on a different hemisphere.
From a visual standpoint, it is not hard to tell that Taylor is not your average running back. His body is well-conditioned and built to take punishment. Yet there is more to Taylor than his physical attributes.
Freshman year, when most athletes prioritize acclimating to their surroundings, Taylor was breaking rushing records. Rather than rest on his accomplishments from that season, his objective was taking his play to the next level; the process to greatness is constant.
It became clear that Taylor was a phenomenon. 2,194 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns later, the entire nation understood that Wisconsin had a transcendent talent at running back, the likes that had not been seen in years.
The off-season presents little relaxation. For Taylor, it is a period of training, film study and self-evaluation. The missed opportunities, mistakes and small details reveal themselves on film; Taylor is more than willing to point them out.
"I definitely want to improve on staying more consistent, ya know", he tells former NFL fullback and football analyst Howard Griffin. "When you're having a great run then you come back and kinda make a mis-read, ya know. It kinda doesn't bring you down, but you're like, you've done that plenty of times in practice; I know the read. "
Taylor brings an entire community along with him on each carry. His roots are deep in Salem, New Jersey, a small town in South Jersey where he fell in love with football. In Salem, Taylor is not just any college player, he is a symbol of hope in a community that had endured economic hardships.
"When he has that ball, I know JT is gonna make a touchdown", his mother Elizabeth Taylor said proudly. "You know watching him on TV, he had like three touchdowns, I got up and started crying. This is my son, I can't believe I'm watching him on television", his father Jonathan James added.
Taylor drew his inspiration from past New Jersey-born running backs who succeeded before him. He may have been too young to remember the great Ron Dayne, the Badgers standard-bearer for running backs, yet he recalls another who lived not too far away from him that succeeded at a high level.
"We would play Glassboro and we would see Corey Clement just running all over the field. That next year, he was at Wisconsin, I'm like okay; this guy we've been watching him 30 minutes down the road from me, and he's at a division program. If he can do it, so can I".
He decided from that point to dedicate the time and effort needed to accomplish what Clement did at Wisconsin. Every repetition in the gym and every track run formed a new purpose; becoming the next great Badgers running back.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, "all our knowledge begins with the senses". One's ability to use their senses effectively in different areas, is in itself a talent. Taylor takes as much pride using his knowledge in the classroom, as he would reading opposing defenses. Harvard was once a possibility, as his love for astrophysics was an undeniable one.
Here was the conflict, Wisconsin did not have an astrophysics program. Taylor found a way to pursue his passion for both astronomy and physics in his freshman year. He decided at that time to double-major in both subjects. Most student athletes would not conceive such an idea, considering the physical and mental grind that accompanies such a commitment. For him, this type of challenge was part of his journey of personal growth.
As a finalist for the Doak Walker Award in his freshman year, the odds were stacked against him, as his competition included Penn State's Saquon Barkley and Stanford's Bryce Love, who rushed for over 2000 yards that season. For Taylor, being a finalist was an award in itself; at the same time, he was aware that his time had not come yet.
"At that time, I was just excited to be there", he recalled. "In my mind, it didn't really matter who won the award because both of those guys deserved the award, so it didn't really matter." Throughout the 2018 season, Taylor's mindset was not set on winning an award, rather the success of his team took priority over any personal goals.
The greater satisfaction this upcoming season would come in the form of a playoff appearance. Last season, Taylor saw his team regress from a 13-1 season in 2017. For him, it is about finding balance between personal and team success. For the Badgers as a whole, a collective refocus was necessary.
"Really, I think we just need to refocus. It's a new year, new chapter, new team, new roles, so I think we just need to focus in fall camp, have everyone earn and find their role." New season, new goals, more details; the cycle continues.