Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of the “Next Up” series, which profiles the signees from Florida’s 2016 class. SEC Country traveled around the South to visit the recruits before they reported to campus.
COCOA, Fla. — Cocoa High School coach John Wilkinson still remembers the day Jawaan Taylor finally committed to lift — or lose — the weight off his shoulders.
Last July, the 3-star offensive guard traveled with Wilkinson to compete in Florida’s summer camp. Taylor, hoping to earn an offer from the Gators, found out he was far from it.
“I watched his workout from the stands,” Wilkinson said. “He was kind of laboring and limping around. He just didn’t look good at all to be honest with you. That was the turning point for him.”
Following the camp, UF offensive line coach Mike Summers met with Taylor and laid it on him.
“Coach Summers just basically told him you need to lose weight. That’s the bottom line,” Wilkinson said. “You’re carrying too much weight and it’s hurting your athleticism and your movement. His goal was to go to Florida, and he knew it wasn’t happening at his size. He really took it to heart, and that’s how it all started.”
Taylor weighed 383 pounds at the time and had trouble making it through workouts and practices. He drank dark sodas daily and constantly snacked on fatty foods.
“I’d be quick, grab some chips or hostess cakes,” Taylor said.
After camping at Florida, he made the decision to take on a serious and strict diet, as well as a workout regimen.
“First I changed all my eating habits,” Taylor said. “I got rid of all the sweet drinks and just drank water. I worked out three times a day. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, again in the afternoon and from 9-11 at night. I did it Monday through Friday, worked out twice on Saturday and Sunday was my recovery day. That was my only day off.”
Taylor said switching up his meals was the hardest part. The ones he missed most were macaroni and cheese, other pastas and pizza.
“All the bad starches that put weight on you, it was hard to give those up. Candy was tough, too,” Taylor said. “I ate different proteins and vegetables, a lot of salads. I had fruit and granola bars for my snacks. Baked or grilled chicken usually for meat.
“I stopped eating fried foods. I cut all that stuff out. I didn’t have any cheat days. Diets usually tell you to have one, but I never did. I was determined to do it and I wanted to be a success. When I made up my mind that I wanted to do it, everything became natural for me. ”
The results were immediate and obvious for Taylor. He dropped nearly 50 pounds, slimming down to 335 during his senior year. Once his midseason highlights came out, his recruitment took off.
“Put on the tape and watch him as a senior against the same team he played as a junior, and it’s two different worlds,” Wilkinson said.
Taylor said he felt the difference throughout the season. Not only did his stamina improve, but he was able to do more as a blocker.
“Being heavy that whole junior season was a struggle for me,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t move around or make it to the next level against the linebackers. Once I got my weight down, I was able start pulling and leading plays. It bettered my game a lot, and that opened up more offers and opportunities for me.”
Taylor received an offer from Florida in late November and committed four days later. Auburn and Georgia both offered and pursued him late in the process, but Taylor stuck with the Gators.
Landing three SEC offers made all his hard work worth it.
“I got down on myself when coaches told me I needed to lose weight,” Taylor said. “There was more than one school telling me that. Those same coaches told me I opened their eyes my senior season, and that made me feel good.
Wilkinson said he’s never had a player lose as much weight as Taylor, nor be as dedicated in achieving a goal. He credits Summers for lighting a fire under his star guard.
“We had been on him for years about his weight, but sometimes coming from a college coach is what they need to hear,” Wilkinson said. “I’ve told coach Summers to his face that what he told Jawaan was huge for him. A lot of people can lose the weight, but then they put it back on. He’s been able to keep it off and he’s actually looking trimmer now than he was during the season.
“Now instead of stopping at a McDonald’s, he drives by it and comes to the gym. It’s a tribute to him.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi