Taylor, Jason

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Jason Taylor


Athlete, television personality

As one of the best defensive ends in the National Football League (NFL), Jason Taylor was a key element in the improved fortunes of the Miami Dolphins before he was traded to the Washington Redskins in 2008. Though Taylor is considered small for a defensive end at six-foot-six and 255 pounds, his prowess in taking down quarterbacks brought him honors as Defensive Player of the Year. Conversely, his size made him an unlikely candidate for the ABC reality-television competition Dancing with the Stars. In the spring of 2008 Taylor and his dance partner placed second in the finals. His unexpected performance was not the first time he had triumphed over detractors—few had expected him to become one of professional football's standout defense players, but Taylor possesses a steely determination and impressive work ethic. "I look at it like this: It doesn't matter what the weather is, whether it is snowing, raining, 10 degrees or 100 degrees," he explained to Damon Hack in the New York Times about his athletic career. "It's only three hours. If you can't go out there and play your tail off for three hours in the snow or the heat or whatever it may be, then you're getting paid too much money for not doing your job."

Schooled at Home

Born in 1974, Taylor grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although he was home-schooled from the tenth through twelfth grades, he was still allowed to participate in the sports program at Woodland Hills High School in Churchill, Pennsylvania. He dreamed of a career in the National Basketball Association, but before the start of his senior year, he joined Woodland Hills' top-caliber football program, which led to an offer of an athletic scholarship from the University of Akron.

On the second day of his freshman year, however, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) declared him academically ineligible because he had been homeschooled. Taylor had finished his high school studies with a 3.85 grade-point average—verified by a homeschool-monitoring association that his mother had used—but he had a relatively weak Scholastic Aptitude Test score, even though it was well above the minimum for scholarship eligibility. His family contacted the Home School Legal Defense Association, which was successful in getting the NCAA to reverse its ruling. He became one of the first home-schooled athletes to win an athletic scholarship at an NCAA Division I school.

Taylor was a linebacker for three years with the Zips, as Akron's athletic teams are called, but switched to defensive end during his senior year. The Zips were never a powerhouse in their Mid-American Conference, but Taylor endured an especially painful losing streak during his time there: Of forty-four games played, the Zips won just twelve. In the 1997 NFL draft, Taylor was a third-round pick by the Miami Dolphins, and few predicted that he would become one of the Dolphins' key players over the next decade. One reason was that he was much smaller than typical NFL defensive ends, many of whom tipped the scales at 300 pounds; at his top weight prior to turning pro, Taylor managed to bulk up to 242 pounds, but was lanky at six-foot-six. During his rookie season, he managed to rack up five sacks, the term for tackling a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before he is able to throw a forward pass. The following season, in 1999, Taylor had nine sacks. In 2000 he began to gain serious attention for his ability to stop opponents: He ended the season with fourteen and a half sacks. The Dolphins finished first in the East Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) with an 11-5 record.

Two years later Taylor closed out the NFL regular season as the league leader with eighteen and a half sacks. In Football Digest he commented on the key to his success: "A lot of people might point to my speed, but at the end of the day, if you don't work hard enough or don't want it bad enough, then all you are is fast." He continued, "[Olympic gold medalist] Carl Lewis was fast, but I don't think he ever hit a quarterback." In the 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons, Taylor recorded a total of thirty-four and a half sacks.

Named NFL's Defensive MVP

The Dolphins finished the 2006 season with a 6-10 record, but Taylor was still named NFL Defensive Player (MVP) of the Year by Associated Press sports-writers. Game analysts and even fellow players asserted that Taylor was the rare gridiron star who could win a game single-handedly. He was said to have done just that during the 2006 season when the Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 24-20, thanks to Taylor's fifty-one-yard return on an interception that yielded a touchdown.

That season the South Florida media gave Taylor his fourth Dan Marino MVP Award, which honors the record-setting Dolphins quarterback. Taylor and Marino's professional camaraderie evolved into a solid friendship after Marino's retirement in 2000, and Taylor followed Marino's lead in pursuing community investment and enrichment activities in the off-season. In 2004 he established the Jason Taylor Foundation, which funds after-school programs and college scholarships for at-risk youth in South Florida.

Taylor's wife, Katina, plays an active role in the foundation's work. A former Miss Amarillo, Texas, whose brother Zach Thomas was the Dolphins' longtime linebacker, she and Taylor married in 2001. The have three children. In 2006 highly publicized marital problems nearly brought an unexpected end to Taylor's career when he offered to give up football if it was necessary to save their marriage. In the end, divorce papers were withdrawn, and Taylor promised Dolphins management and fans that he had several more seasons in him.

Those Dolphins fans were disappointed, however: In July of 2008 the Dolphins traded Taylor to the Washington Redskins in exchange for two draft picks. "The [Redskins'] defensive line has really brought me in and made me one of their own" he told Ethan J. Skolnick in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "They like veterans, and they don't make you feel like an old man."

At a Glance …

Born Jason Paul Taylor on September 1, 1974, in Pittsburgh, PA; married Katina Thomas, June 2001; children: sons Isaiah and Mason, daughter Zoe. Education: University of Akron, 1992-96.

Career: Miami Dolphins, defensive end, 1997-2008; Washington Redskins, defensive end, 2008—. Established the Jason Taylor Foundation, 2004. Appeared on the ABC television series Dancing with the Stars, 2008.

Memberships: Screen Actors Guild.

Awards: Dan Marino MVP Award, 2000; 2002, 2004, 2006; NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 2006; Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, 2007.

Addresses: Home—Weston, FL. Office—c/o Jason Taylor Foundation, 510 Shotgun Rd., Ste. 520, Sunrise, FL 33326.

Danced in Television Competition Series

Taylor's off-season activities have included acting classes in the Los Angeles area and representing men's skin-care products made by Neutrogena. Despite his imposing size, he made a surprisingly graceful showing in the reality-television competition Dancing with the Stars in March of 2008. Paired with Edyta Sliwinska, a professional ballroom dancer from Poland, Taylor executed some difficult dance moves as the season progressed, including the samba, rumba, foxtrot, and waltz. Their scores kept improving as the weeks progressed, and they wound up in second place behind figure-skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi and her dance partner, Mark Ballas. A writer for Daily Variety followed the contestants' training schedule for one week, during which Taylor and Sliwinska logged eight-hour days. "I've never cha-cha'd in my life and I've got a week to make it look like I know what I'm doing. That's tough," he told the trade journal's Jerry Rice. Sliwinska was responsible for teaching him the steps and had the authority to extend practices past the twelve-hour mark. "She's the toughest coach I've been around," Taylor assured Rice.



Akron Beacon Journal, December 24, 2004.

Daily Variety, May 6, 2008, p. A2.

Football Digest, November 2003, p. 18.

New York Times, December 26, 2002, p. C8.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), August 17, 2008.

Sports Illustrated, September 28, 1992, p. 10; June 25, 2007, p. 68.

—Carol Brennan

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Taylor, Jason

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Taylor, Jason