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New Jersey’s Jonathan Taylor hoping to bring speed, aggression to Wisconsin backfield

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Yes, the Badgers have another promising running back recruit coming in from New Jersey.

Jonathan Taylor Student Sports

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Wisconsin Badgers 2017 commit Jonathan Taylor wore a t-shirt depicting DC Comics superhero The Flash on his in-home visit with head coach Paul Chryst and UW’s coaching staff.

That’s because, according to NJ.com, Taylor is “the fastest high school athlete in the state” of New Jersey.

“Actually, my mother had gotten me that shirt after I won the 100-meter championship in New Jersey,” Taylor said on Monday. “Her brother used to watch the Flash when they were younger, so she bought me that shirt and said I was the Flash.

“I actually wear it a lot.”

Clocked at 10.61 seconds in the 100-meter dash back in June 2016 during the state’s Meet of Champions, Taylor’s performance followed an eye-opening sprint during The Opening Regional New Jersey competition in late May. He ran a verified 4.42-second 40-yard dash, to be exact—the regional’s fastest.

Billed at 208 pounds at The Opening, Taylor will now take his speed, strength and power to Wisconsin as the next standout prep running back from the state of New Jersey to head to Madison.

After signing his National Letter of Intent early Wednesday afternoon, the 5’11 Salem product will join a proud line of Badgers running backs from the Garden State, including former Heisman Trophy winner and the Big Ten’s all-time leading rusher Ron Dayne (1996-99), Anthony Davis (2001-04) and Corey Clement (2013-16).

Taylor actually broke Clement’s South Jersey record and the state’s modern-era state mark on Thanksgiving last year in a win over rival Woodbury. According to head coach Montrey Wright, Taylor rushed for 2,812 yards and 34 touchdowns his senior season.

“When I thought about it, it was interesting how Corey Clement had the South Jersey record, and then I broke it,” Taylor said, “but I’m also going to Wisconsin so it was kind of funny at first.

“Breaking the modern-era record means a lot. There were a lot of great backs that came out of Jersey, some of them went to Wisconsin, but overall, there were a lot of great backs out of New Jersey. For me to be the top rusher, it means a lot. It humbles me a lot to know that hard work does pay off, but there’s always room to improve and I know that I can get better. I just need to keep working.”

That fits Wright’s description of Taylor: hungry and humble. The coach has seen the star running back grow from his time as an assistant in Taylor’s first two years in high school to leading Salem as its head coach from 2015-16. He believes his star is a pro-style back that fits Wisconsin’s offense.

“Corey [Clement] was more of a one-cut type go-guy. Jonathan does the same thing, but Jonathan once he gets into the secondary, he separates himself from a lot of people,” Wright said when asked to compare the two backs, also noting Taylor’s aggression when carrying the ball.

Wisconsin offered the football and track prospect back in May during his track season. According to Taylor, contact started with tight ends coach Mickey Turner and continued with running backs coach John Settle.

Taylor eventually made his official visit to Wisconsin for the Oct. 15 home game against No. 3 Ohio State, taking in the university with the help of Dayne.

When the lights came on at Camp Randall Stadium, Taylor said the stadium felt “electric,” but the game slowed down for him when watching the Wisconsin sideline.

“After about the first half, I started to shut out the crowd and just all the sights of the game,” said Taylor, who also received offers from Temple, Yale, Harvard, Washington State and Virginia Tech. “After the first half, I kind of shut that out and started really thinking about what was going on—the way they play, the way the coaches are. After that visit, I could see the guys that they bring in are definitely tough. Being that they took a top program, Ohio State, into overtime, but not just that they took them into overtime, the way that they did it—they made big plays when they needed to make big plays.

“You could see the coaching staff not just stand there on the sidelines. Every time a guy came out, they were sitting there coaching them up, trying to get better. So I had seen they were constantly getting better even during the game. I had just seen that, and was like this was one of the places I need to be at.”

At the time of the official visit, Taylor was verbally committed to Rutgers and new head coach (and former Wisconsin assistant) Chris Ash, a program the running back said has the right guys in place. About two weeks after his visit to Madison, however, Taylor reopened his recruiting process.

Taylor then committed to Wisconsin a couple of days later on Nov. 1. After developing a rapport with his future coaches, he’s excited for what lies ahead.

“[Settle] has a wall in his office and has all of his 1,000-yard rushers on there,” Taylor said when asked about the relationship he’s developed with his future position coach. “He said he’s fired up because he sees the potential in me and room to grow. That was one thing that really stuck to me though was how he has great experience being that he played in the NFL, he’s been at the level. He knows what it takes, he knows what things work and what things don’t. I can’t wait to get working with him and developing myself.”

The work ethic and training has paid off for Taylor, as he was named USA Today first-team All-New Jersey and the Maxwell Football Club high school player of the year for the state.

His success on the field hasn’t shaped his character off of it. According to his Twitter profile, Taylor currently holds a 3.8 GPA, and he’s earned Wright’s praises.

“If you didn’t know him, didn’t know he played football, you wouldn’t know he was the star football player on our team just based on his character and his humbleness, how he treats everybody, how good he is in the community,” Wright said. “You would never notice just because how he carries himself as a great young man.”

As quick as Taylor is between the sidelines and on the track, he forged new bonds with his future teammates as well. Already picking the brains of those mid-year enrollees who are taking part in winter conditioning and spring semester, the future Badger knows there’s a successful precedent set before him and the class of 2017.

“We know that we have some big shoes to fill being as though the last senior class was the winningest class in school history,” Taylor said, “so we know we’re coming into a big spotlight. There’s opportunity to get better, because you can always get better, so we always talk about how we’re up for the challenge.”