Not many NFLers come out of the University of Akron. But former Dolphins great Jason Taylor is not like most football players. Taylor has always been the underdog, and that helped him to become one of the premier linebackers of the 21st century.
Taylor went to a school in the Mid-American Conference, and didn’t get drafted until the third round, but that didn’t stop him from being inducted into the Hall of Fame this August.
"There are certainly some advantages to playing at bigger schools," Taylor said. "The resources are fantastic. More people see you play because of the amount of televised games. And, in theory, you have a greater opportunity to play against other NFL caliber talent, which helps teams in their evaluation of your play. With that said, the sophistication of NFL personnel departments is at an all-time high, and if you are good enough, they will find you."
It would have been difficult for NFL teams to not find Taylor based on his remarkable career in college. He was a three-year starter, and he recorded 279 tackles and 21 sacks. He was selected as an All-MAC player as a junior and senior. Taylor became just the third person inducted into Akron’s Ring of Honor. Before becoming a dominant force at Akron, however, Taylor learned about hard work from his mother, who he thanked in his enshrinement speech.
"So much of what I believe in with respect to hard work, caring for others, and caring for my family was instilled in me by her," Taylor said. "And as kids, we often see how hard our parents are working, but we don’t truly understand the sacrifice they are making for us until we become parents of our own. My mother worked day and night just to keep food on the table, and I will never lose sight of that."
Taylor would use the lessons he learned from his mother to have an incredibly successful career in the NFL. The Miami Dolphins nabbed Taylor with the 73rd pick of the 1997 NFL Draft. Immediately, Taylor made an impact as a rookie. He started and recorded five sacks and two forced fumbles. From there, Taylor would go on to become one of the best players to ever wear a Dolphins uniform. After the 2007 season, he signed with the Washington Redskins, before spending time with the Jets. Taylor would also have two more stints with the Dolphins. Taylor played his last game on January 1, 2012. After the game, he was carried off by his Dolphins teammates.
During his time in Miami, Taylor earned numerous awards and set many records. He won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2006, a season in which he posted 13.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Taylor earned a trip to the Pro Bowl six different times, and he was also a first- or second-team All-Pro four different times. For his entire career, he finished with 775 tackles, 139.5 sacks, and 47 forced fumbles. Taylor holds the NFL records for most touchdowns for a defensive lineman (nine), and has the second-most interceptions for a defensive lineman all-time (eight).
Taylor credited legendary head coach Jimmy Johnson for giving him a chance with the Dolphins. Standing at 6'6", Taylor was considered smaller than the prototypical defensive end of his era. Johnson not only looked past Taylor's size, he trusted him enough to make him a starter at a young age.
"That kind of support and belief in my abilities and potential was priceless," Taylor said. "The other thing I have to give Jimmy a ton of credit for was making me understand, very quickly, the physical and mental toughness required to be successful in the NFL. Jimmy’s practices were so tough that games were easy.”
Since the Patriots are in the Dolphins' division, Taylor had to face five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady twice a year. Taylor identifies Brady as the toughest quarterback he ever faced. He admired the Patriots' QB's competitiveness and knew to never let up when playing New England. Since Brady was his longtime on-field rival, Taylor was shocked when he found out Brady recommended him for Hall of Fame induction. Brady wrote a lengthy letter to Canton explaining why Taylor should be enshrined.
“I was floored,” Taylor said. “I had no idea the letter was in the works until it was sent to my office, and it just meant the world to me. I mentioned earlier how much I respect Tom, so to get that kind of support from an opponent—who isn’t just any opponent, but the greatest quarterback to play the game—was exceptionally meaningful.”
Even though Taylor doesn’t play anymore, he still makes an impact throughout the local community thanks to his charity, the Jason Taylor Foundation. The birth of his son Isaiah motivated him to start the organization to support children who would not have all the same advantages that his own would. “Over the years, we have really honed in on the areas of self-empowerment and education, and have numerous programs that focus on literacy, scholarships and, believe it or not, poetry," Taylor said.
Taylor wasn’t the most heralded player when he entered the NFL, but he made up for it with his hard work and tenacity. Taylor was dominant for 15 years in the league, which is remarkable considering the physical nature of football. Jason Taylor is a Hall of Famer on and off the field.
(Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)