08/20 11:21 CDT Running track sped up success for Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor
Running track sped up success for Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor
By KEITH JENKINS
AP Sports Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) --- Jonathan Taylor is one of the best running backs in
He would be the first to say his success isn't due to just one person.
There are, of course, his parents, Elizabeth Taylor and Jonathan James, and
several other family members and coaches. But a single observation by a mentor
helped change the entire trajectory of Taylor's success as a runner.
"I went in and I said, 'Hey, run track. You need to run track,'" recalled
Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle.
Settle, who is in his 10th season mentoring the Badgers' rushers, was drawn to
Taylor's work ethic while recruiting the New Jersey native in high school.
Settle said he noticed watching game film that something was missing from
Taylor's repertoire: Breakaway speed.
"His junior year, he wasn't breaking any long ones," Settle said. "Everybody
was running him down, you know, running him out of bounds. All of a sudden
(after running track), he shows up as a senior, and he was leaving people. So
about the second or third game, we offered him (a scholarship)."
Taylor, an honor roll student, originally committed to nearby Rutgers, but then
decommitted and elected to join Settle in Madison over attending Harvard.
"I had some other looks, but one of the biggest things was choosing a place
that was right for me," Taylor said. "I know a lot of other places on the East
Coast were right for me, my family and friends, but I felt like Wisconsin was
the right place for me to fully maximize my collegiate experience."
Settle has coached four of the top six rushers in school history. At the
beginning of each season, long before the team takes the field for spring
practice, Settle gathers all the running backs in a room and greets them with a
single proclamation: "Somebody in here is going to rush for 1,000 yards."
"It's just instilling that confidence in them," he said. "When they take the
field, shoot, they're going to be prepared, mentally, physically. And then
they're here because they're talented enough. Now, they can just go out and
In Settle's first season at Wisconsin, he tutored Big Ten Freshman of the Year
P.J. Hill, who led the conference with 1,569 rushing yards, which ranked fifth
in the country. Hill would go on to become just the third running back in
school history to go over 1,000 yards in three different seasons, joining Ron
Dayne and Billy Marek.
Settle's latest success story is Taylor, who won the Doak Walker Award as the
nation's top running back last season after rushing for 2,194 yards and 16
touchdowns as a sophomore. He led the nation in rushing at 168.8 yards per game
and was a first-team AP All-American. He was named a preseason All-American on
"He's a great running back," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. "I really think
from the time he got to campus he's been as impressive if not more. It's who he
is and how he handles it."
Taylor has rushed for 4,171 yards, the most ever by an FBS player through his
first two seasons. Taylor could become only the fourth player in FBS history to
rush for at least 5,000 yards through their junior season, joining Herschel
Walker, Dayne and LaMichael James.
Taylor continues to do several of the stretches and warmups he learned while
running track in high school. And last winter, Taylor conjured up a plan with
Settle, Chryst and Mick Byrne, Wisconsin's director of cross country and track
and field, to skip the final week of spring football in April and begin
practicing with the track team for the 4x100-meter relay, something he
desperately wanted to do at the college level.
"That's just a testament of what type of guy he is," Settle said. "He taught me
a very valuable lesson ... never put limits on your players."
Taylor made his debut on the track team at the Penn Relays, about a 45-minute
drive from his hometown of Salem, New Jersey, and continued to compete with the
team through the spring.
His weight --- he's listed at 5-foot-11 and 219 pounds --- stayed steady.
Taylor said the few months of increased cardio and a different brand of
weightlifting helped keep him in shape and will help him on the football field
"There are a lot of hip-mobility warmups," he said. "There are a lot
quick-burst warmup drills that we do. So in order to get the nervous system
going a little bit and get those quick-twitch muscle fibers going, I think it's
really important that I incorporate those into my warmup now so I'm ready to
Taylor said he isn't focused on the record books or the millions of dollars he
could one day make in the NFL. A philosophy major, Taylor said he wants to be a
better student and become a more consistent runner and more reliable receiver
out of the backfield. He spends time before and after every practice every day
catching balls from the JUGS machine and working on his routes.
"We have a saying, 'Be smart enough to know how to get better,'" Settle said.
"He understands that when it comes down to football and the run game, he can do
it all. He can run up the middle, he can make a guy miss, he can get the edge.
In the pass game is where he lacks. He's taken that upon himself --- day in and
day out, because he wants to be a complete player --- to take that part of his
game to a new level."
Taylor and the 19th-ranked Badgers open the season Aug. 30 at South Florida.
Keith Jenkins can be reached at https://twitter.com/MrKeithJenkins
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