On Saturday, former Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor will join fellow legends as they are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Canton is a short trip from where Taylor played his college football, but it was a long road to travel before he reached the pinnacle of his profession.
During his youth, Taylor’s family, led by a single mother, was homeless after a foreclosure. When football became a possibility, many thought he was too skinny to play, but he put that to rest with a stellar high school career.
Taylor, like fellow Dolphin Hall of Famer Dan Marino, grew up in Pittsburgh. He did not receive offers from big-time college programs, so he wound up at the University of Akron, about 30 miles from Canton.
Along the way, he lost, but regained his scholarship after his mother, Georgia, won a tangle with the NCAA.
He is still the Zips all-time leader in sacks and became only the second player from the Mid-American Conference to reach the Hall of Fame. Kent State’s Jack Lambert, who was part of the great Pittsburgh Steelers defenses of the 70s, was the other.
In 1997 Taylor was taken in the third round with the 73rd pick overall by the Dolphins, 7 selections after the Bucs had taken Ronde Barber.
Over the next 10 years, Taylor had 117 sacks, forced 37 fumbles and intercepted 7 passes. He turned 6 of those fumbles into touchdowns and ran back three interceptions for scores. He finished his career with 139.5 sacks, 46 forced fumbles (29 recoveries) and 8 interceptions.
Along the way, he started the Jason Taylor Foundation. The foundation promotes many charitable causes, but especially learning opportunities for young people. In 2007 he was named the winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his community service.
He credits his mother for instilling the character trait to help others. Despite working two jobs and not having much, she taught Jason the meaning of good works.
“We would go to (a soup kitchen) not to eat, but to volunteer,” Taylor told the Palm Beach Post. “We had nothing, but we were still giving. Hell yeah, she instilled that from early on.”
After his Hall-of-Fame-caliber career, he competed on Dancing With the Stars in 2008, finishing as the runner-up with his pro partner, Edyta Sliwinska.
Now he puts on the exclusive gold jacket, symbolic of the few who reached the ultimate level in pro football. Taylor and fellow class member, LaDainian Tomlinson, are the only two in the modern era to reach the 15 semi-finalists, let alone be selected.
Taylor is the third member of his 1997 draft class to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Orlando Pace of St. Louis and Walter Jones of Seattle (and Florida State), both offensive tackles, are the other two.