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Prove it, again: J.J. Taylor

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  • Prove it, again: J.J. Taylor

    Prove it, again: Family competition, height issue stoked the flames of J.J. Taylor’s Arizona success

    By C.J. Holmes 2h ago
    Arizona running back J.J. Taylor was a high school freshman playing in a 7-on-7 tournament when Brandon Huffman, 247Sports’ national recruiting editor, saw him in action for the first time on a football field.

    That day, Taylor put on a performance that Huffman could describe only as “electric.”

    “He shook a kid so bad in the open field, the kid was hurt and J.J. was gone,” Huffman said. “He was small, but he was so shifty and athletic. His burst was just insane.”

    Following his freshman year at JSerra Catholic School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Taylor transferred to Corona Centennial, about 45 minutes up the road. Centennial’s football program has always been known for its size, strength and physicality, which made it so ironic that the then-5-foot-5, 150-pound running back eventually developed into one of the team’s best players.

    When Centennial coach Matt Logan first encountered Taylor, he had no concerns regarding his size. Instead, he saw a versatile playmaker who could potentially help the Huskies in every phase of the game.

    “Athletically, he was just incredibly amazing,” Logan said. “The stuff that he does in games that you see, we’ve all seen in practice multiple times. If not every day, then twice a week he would do something amazing in practice that just makes your jaw drop.

    “There were obviously durability questions and stuff like that, but then when you see how strong he is, and how he’s able to avoid things because of his incredible flexibility and agility, you knew he was going to be able to avoid a lot of that contact.”

    Taylor began his career at Centennial as a defensive back, because that’s where the team needed him the most at the time. As a junior, Taylor moved to running back, which is where he started to hit his stride.

    Taylor was dominant as a senior, rushing for a whopping 2,290 yards and 44 touchdowns. He was an integral part of Centennial’s playoff run that year, totaling 16 touchdowns and 801 yards on the ground over four games, helping the Huskies (14-1) win a second consecutive Pac-5 title.

    A large part of Taylor’s success on the field in high school can be attributed to tremendous support and consistency at home. Taylor’s parents, Joseph and Latrese, just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and kept him in the same Corona household throughout his entire childhood. He also has five siblings — three brothers and two younger sisters — and is technically the middle child.

    “J.J.’s family is completely supportive of him,” Logan said. “His sister actually still does some things with our program right now. She serves as an assistant trainer with our team. Mom and Dad loved to come to the games to cheer him on, and they’re very supportive of the program and just the kind of parents you want.”

    Taylor says his two oldest brothers, Andrey and Andrew, are responsible for igniting his competitive nature. Whether it was football, basketball or video games, J.J. always tried to best them. As a kid, J.J. rarely came out on top, but he says the constant battles with his brothers built character.

    “It was fun,” Taylor said. “My two older brothers were athletes just like (me). Being able to compete with them was my biggest accomplishment. Andrey was my size for the longest time, and Andrew was like a bully – played like a big man. He was my size now back then, and I always had trouble trying to get past him and beat him.”

    Taylor was one of the best running backs Centennial has ever produced, winning Mr. Football as the state’s top offensive player as a senior. He was also named to the All-Inland First Team, and earned Blue-Grey All-American honors as well.

    Despite his on-field accomplishments, however, Taylor was just a three-star recruit who had offers from only smaller Division I schools such as Sacramento State, Montana State and Ohio. Most Power-5 programs were troubled by his size, and didn’t think he’d have the durability to last at the college level.

    “There’s a concern that if you miss on a short guy everybody says, “Hey, we told you he was too small,” Logan said. “I think that’s probably what they’re thinking. But we all knew what kind of amazing player he was, with the way he works. He was one of our strongest players, and we knew that he’d put on more size so he could protect himself.”

    Washington State was one Power-5 school willing to take a chance on Taylor. Arizona was another. Taylor chose the Wildcats because Tucson was closer to home. And now, the Wildcats’ faith is being rewarded, although it took Taylor three seasons to finally make his mark.

    As a true freshman, Taylor appeared in four games with one start before breaking his ankle against Washington, which forced a medical redshirt. The following season, Taylor played in all 13 games for the Wildcats (with three starts), finishing the season as the team’s leading running back with 847 yards and seven touchdowns. He was named Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year, sharing the honor with Stanford lineman Walker Little.

    Last season, Taylor became a first-team All-Pac-12 selection as a running back with 1,434 rushing yards (six touchdowns), and was voted a third-team All-American as an all-purpose player. His 175.6 all-purpose yards per game ranked second among all FBS players.

    “When he was here, he returned kicks, he returned punts, he blocked kicks, he was a defensive end for us and led our team in sacks for a little while,” Logan said. “He can do anything, so his success does not surprise any one of us. And we love it, especially when he’s successful against all the teams that decided not to recruit him because of his size.”

    Taylor, now a 5-foot-6, 185-pound redshirt junior, enters 2019 as a preseason first-team Pac-12 selection as an all-purpose player, and was named to the second-team as a running back.

    Logan is proud of how far Taylor has come as a player, and thinks his best performances in an Arizona uniform are still ahead of him.

    “I only expect him to get better and better, because I know how he works,” Logan said. “He does everything to the best of his ability and his talent level is so amazing so I only expect him to have a better year in 2019.”