Henry Award winner Jon Taylor carries an uncommon maturity
By Joseph Santoliquito
Jon Taylor always had a penchant for doing something that belied his age. Where other high school players dreaded going over game film, the Salem 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior tailback embraced it. In fact, Taylor would invariably approach his coaches after each film session about what he could do differently, what he could do to get better.
The speedy bulldozer altered his running style his last year of high school football. No more tip-toeing around the outside, Taylor dedicated himself to running more horizontal. He dedicated himself to gaining more weight, to making himself stronger and more explosive.
On National Signing Day, his commitment and maturity led to a football scholarship to Wisconsin. It’s also led to a singular achievement as the Maxwell Club’s 2016 Henry Award winner, which awards the best area high school player on not only on-field performance, but on academic achievement and community service.
What makes Taylor so special is that he excels in all of those areas.
A typical story about Jon Taylor: He was looking for the appropriate time to commit to Wisconsin. So he conferred with Salem head coach Montrey Wright about selecting the bye-week when the Rams didn’t have a game, because he didn’t want to draw attention from the team.
“That’s the kind of kid Jon is, a humble kid, who works hard and is appreciative of everything he’s received,” Wright said. “I know he’s just 18, but to see a well-rounded kid like that come through our town is something you want to see and affects the area. It’s tough to find kids like that these days. A lot of these kids do a little something and they think they’re great.
“Jon doesn’t. He wants more. It’s why he wants to work harder. He’s never satisfied and when he told me about committing to Wisconsin, he thought about the team before he thought about himself. That’s the kind of special kid Jon is. Wisconsin found a real gem in him.”
Taylor’s senior year was a season for the ages, rushing for a South Jersey record 2,815 yards, averaging 234.6 yards a game, while scoring 37 touchdowns (35 rushing). The ironic twist is the rushing record he broke previously belonged to Glassboro’s Corey Clement (who rushed for 2,510 yards in 2011) and is now officially Taylor’s teammate at Wisconsin.
He finished his high school career with 4,642 yards rushing and 49 touchdowns. He had two games in which he rushed for over 300 yards (344 and 3 TDs against Burlington City on Sept. 17; and 368 and 5 TDs against Woodbury on Nov. 19). Against defenses solely committed to stopping him, Taylor still rushed for 200 yards or more in eight of Salem’s 12 games.
It’s one thing to set out goals, another to exceed them beyond your wildest dreams—as Taylor did.
“I grew with all of the seniors on my team, I knew them all my life, so this year was a great experience playing with them and what we achieved going through our last high school football season together,” said Taylor, who wants to major in engineering at Wisconsin. “We had something special, and we had a good group of young guys come in, too. We had to show them the way.
“As time progressed, we led the younger guys and we did some great things. These seniors have been to two state championship games, and we did it under two different coaches, Coach Dennis Thomas and Coach Wright. Before we were freshmen, this team was 0-10. We came in and made Salem a winning program. That’s something I’m very proud of.”
Much was expected of Salem entering 2016. But when the Rams lost their first two games, they could have panicked and fell apart. Taylor wouldn’t let that happen. He led the Rams on a nine-game winning streak that ended in the New Jersey Sports Interscholastic Athletic Association Group 1 South Jersey championship, where Salem lost to traditional South Jersey power Paulsboro, 29-26. It was a game in which Taylor rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
“Before the Burlington City game, I could tell things would be different at practice,” Taylor said. “Coach Wright saw the game films and told us he didn’t think another team had a line like ours. He challenged us to play better and that we could break records. During a huddle late in the Burlington City game, when we were winning big, Coach Wright reminded us what he said earlier about executing and finding our way. We all looked at each other in the huddle and nodded. We knew.”
Taylor said he learned to appreciate game film through his positional coach, Curtis Scoffield, who stressed to Taylor to watch each step he took. Taylor began breaking down his movements, learned to refine his running style.
“As a junior, the way I was running, if I moved forward more often, guys would move out of the way,” Taylor said. “I gained 15 pounds and that helped. Straight down hill was my style and I made gains when I was an aggressive runner. I was stronger this year and I felt confident I could run through people.
“That comes with trusting my guys up front. My offensive line was great this year. I wouldn’t have done what I did without them. You put all of that work in during the offseason, you have to make sure it’s put to good use. My guys up front did their job, and they trusted me to do my job. I rewarded those guys by punching through those holes and they allowed me to do the things I did.”
Finally, Taylor said he wouldn’t be anywhere without his parents, Jon James and Elizabeth Taylor. They’re the ones who set his foundation with discipline and an appreciation for academics.
“They were hard on me, and sometimes I hated it, but as you get older and you look back, you appreciate it because look where it got me and where I am,” Taylor said. “I’m going to a great school and getting a great education for free. None of this would have happened without my parents. Receiving the Henry award is a great honor and the way I see it, it’s a way of repaying my parents, my teammates and my coaches for putting me here. This is a new chapter in my life and I can’t wait to get started.”
Winner: Jim Henry Award – 2016 Salem HS