Randy Shannon’s leap of faith in C.J. McWilliams kept him with Gators

Florida freshman cornerback C.J. McWilliams. (Photo courtesy of McWilliams)
Florida freshman cornerback C.J. McWilliams. (Photo courtesy of McWilliams)

MIAMI — The recruiting process can start as early as freshman year with some high school football prospects.

For C.J. McWilliams, however, it took time for colleges to come after him.

“After my third season of high school, I wasn’t getting interest from any schools,” said McWilliams, a 3-star cornerback from Miami. “Coaches don’t really come by my high school (Southwest). Finally a big college noticed me and saw what I was capable of doing, so it was a dream come true.”

On May 1 of last year during spring football, McWilliams was called out of class a couple hours before his practice.

“I came down to the office and standing there was Randy Shannon,” said McWilliams, who only had one offer (Florida Atlantic) at the time.

The Florida linebackers coach and Miami area recruiter had watched McWilliams’ tape and came to evaluate him in person that day.

“He called me after practice and told me he liked my length and speed, but most importantly he was impressed with the way I play,” McWilliams said of his first conversation with Shannon. “He likes how I hit. I’m not scared to come up and make tackles, that’s why he offered me.”

A couple days later, McWilliams committed to the Gators. Cincinnati, Louisville, Miami and Nebraska offered him in the two months after his decision.

McWilliams appreciated their interest, but took it with a grain of salt.

“Every offer was a blessing to have,” he said. “But at the same time, I figured other schools just offered me because I had a Florida offer. They were kind of following the leader. That always crossed my mind.”

Central Florida, South Florida and North Carolina joined the race at the end of senior season. McWilliams had multiple coaches stopping by his school and house in the final month of the recruiting cycle.

“What those colleges saw in him late we’ve seen here at Southwest the whole time,” Southwest coach Tim Neal said. “He’s always been an explosive kid. I think when he excelled in track, that really opened up a lot of eyes around the country (10.73 in the 100 meters).

“But Randy Shannon came in right away and saw the ability of C.J. from the ground level. Coaches like that will be around for a long time. He realized right away the talent that everybody wanted in the end.”

https://twitter.com/Calle8_/status/693638500617449472

McWilliams took officials visits to USF and Miami, while a trip to North Carolina fell through because of weather. But in the end, his first move was his best move.

“When I visited Florida, I knew it was the right decision,” McWilliams said. “It was a great environment and the campus is beautiful. I love the coaching staff.

“I want a good degree, and UF has one of the best. My dream is play in the NFL and they can get me there, too. So my future is bright because I’m a Gator.”

That was solidified by Shannon’s pursuit and recruitment of McWilliams.

“He’s been loyal to me since he offered,” McWilliams said of Shannon. “He stayed after me until the end, and that showed me loyalty. So I gave it back to him.

“He knows what he wants as a coach. He sees the unwritten superstars. He’s just got an eye for talent. That’s what I love about him.”

Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi

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Florida’s Vosean Joseph motivated by Jamaican roots, Miami upbringing

Florida freshman linebacker Vosean Joseph. (247Sports)
Florida freshman linebacker Vosean Joseph. (247Sports)

MIAMI — Florida linebacker Vosean Joseph hasn’t enjoyed trick-or-treating for almost a decade.

Candy and costumes were ruined for him and his family on Oct. 30, 2007.

“We were all dressed up and I got a phone call,” said Joseph’s mother, Nattalene Vanreil-McDonald. “Halloween has never been the same since.”

Vanreil-McDonald found out her aunt, Ivy McFarland, had suddenly passed away from cancer in Jamaica. McFarland was the cornerstone of their family.

“That was like my mom,” Vanreil-McDonald said. “She is the one who raised me and so many others. She was the oldest of seven, but she served as a mother figure for everyone. She was the model for the entire family.”

Vanreil-McDonald left Jamaica for the United States like many of her relatives, but McFarland remained in her homeland. Once Joseph was born in Miami, Vanreil-McDonald took him to Jamaica every year to stay with McFarland.

“We really had a bond,” Joseph said. “She was an amazing woman. I didn’t want to go to Jamaica anymore once she wasn’t there. The first time I went after her death, I got in her house and all I could do was cry. I ran out and took a long walk by myself.”

Vanreil-McDonald said her son continues to struggle with his great aunt’s passing when they visit Jamaica.

“We were just there in December and we had a get-together by her house, which is still in the family,” Vanreil-McDonald said. “I had to literally force him to go. When we arrived, he didn’t want to go into her house. It still has an affect on him.”

That impact hasn’t been completely negative for Joseph. He wears her shirt under his jersey in every game and keeps pictures of her around.

“I think about her every day,” Joseph said. “She drives me more than anything.”

Coping with her death has helped Joseph deal with difficult experiences growing up in Miami.

“Most people don’t have a lot where I’m from,” Joseph said. “Every other week somebody is losing a friend or a loved one. My background and what I’ve gone through has been difficult.

“It’s not easy coming from Miami, but it’s like that in Jamaica, too. That’s why I go so hard in football. It’s a way to put my family in better homes and situations.”

Joseph, who also has relatives in the Bahamas and Haiti, continues to be motivated by the connection and exposure to his Caribbean heritage.

“Everything is at our fingertips in this country,” Vanreil-McDonald said. “Vosean has seen the way of life for other people and he knows some are not as fortunate as us. Not everyone has a mall to walk into and go shopping for new outfits.

“So every time our family goes to Jamaica, he’ll pass out clothes and shoes he doesn’t need. He also sends bags and toys over there, and I don’t tell him to. He’s willing to do that because he was raised to give a helping hand. His aunt would be proud.”

Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi

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Florida LB Jeremiah Moon overcame severe leg, weight problems growing up

Florida freshman linebacker Jeremiah Moon. (Zach Abolverdi/AJC)
Florida freshman linebacker Jeremiah Moon. (Zach Abolverdi/AJC)

HOOVER, Ala. — Forrest Gump isn’t the only football player who grew up in Alabama wearing leg braces.

Florida freshman linebacker Jeremiah Moon was born with a physical deformity that hindered him until he reached elementary school.

“I was bowlegged and pigeon-toed, so I had to wear braces on my legs,” Moon said. “That was not easy.”

Once Moon had trouble walking, doctors put him in braces that stretched from his feet to his knees. He wore them every day for more than a year, and each Monday his family would take him to see a specialist.

The braces helped his legs grow straight, but also caused a hairline fracture in his back. Moon overcame both issues by age 5.

“I almost don’t remember it, but I’ll never forgot how much pain I was in,” Moon said. “I used to cry because my legs hurt.”

Unfortunately for Moon, puberty created more problems with his body. He skyrocketed to 6-foot-4 as a teenager, but his weight couldn’t keep up with his height.

“I had to start taking supplements and drinking protein shakes,” Moon said. “I might gain five pounds, but if I stopped or took a break, I’d just lose the weight. My metabolism is so high it doesn’t make any sense.”

Once he got to high school, Moon began attending camps to put his name out there as a recruit. Those experiences only made matters worse.

“I went to a countless amount of camps just trying to get looked at and be recognized,” Moon said. “I would feel like I did well, but never got any offers. It was always my weight.”

Two people looked past that during the summer of Moon’s freshman year. He received his first scholarship offer from Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins (then at Mississippi State) and met former Gators linebacker Jevon Kearse, who told the 195-pound Moon that he looked just like him in high school.

Collins and Kearse both predicted that Moon would eventually fill out his frame. He’s now 216 pounds, the same weight Kearse was when he started his career at the University of Florida.

Millions of Americans young and old are self-conscious about their appearance and struggle with obesity. Moon had the opposite frustration.

“I used to look in the mirror,” Moon said, “and ask myself, ‘Why can’t I gain any weight?’ But my family told me the reason and always kept that in my head. That helped me deal with it.”

Moon is not the first football player in his family who had trouble putting on weight. His uncle, Darius Gilbert, was a linebacker at Alabama from 1998-2001.

“He was around 220 pounds when he came out of high school and he got up to 260 in college, so my family can gain weight,” Moon said. “I’m only 17, so I’m still young and still growing. My body just isn’t ready yet. It’s going to take some time. I know it will come, just not right now.”

Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon didn’t want Moon worrying about his weight this summer. He had him channeling his inner Forrest Gump.

“He goes, ‘I just want you to run.’ That’s all he asked for,” Moon said. “He needs me to be able to run sideline to sideline and not get tired. He told me they’ll put the weight on me, so don’t stress about that.”

After years of struggling with his physique, Moon knows better days are ahead.

“They can’t come soon enough,” Moon said. “It’ll be crazy to see myself when I’m fully developed and NFL ready. I’ll have a book to write about my body one day.”

Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi

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Florida’s Lamical Perine validated by senior season after lack of offers, respect

Lamical Perine (left) and his mother with Perine's award for Alabama Class 7A running back of the year. (Photo courtesy of Perine)
Lamical Perine (left) and his mother with Perine’s award for Alabama Class 7A running back of the year. (Photo courtesy of Perine)

THEODORE, Ala. — Following his junior season, Lamical Perine expected his offer sheet and recruiting rankings to increase.

Neither happened.

The 3-star tailback out of Theodore High School rushed for 1,416 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2014, but that production basically went unnoticed by college coaches and recruiting services.

“It was frustrating,” Perine said. “I felt like I didn’t get the looks I deserved.”

One SEC program, however, set its sight on Perine in the spring of 2015. Florida coach Jim McElwain and running backs coach Tim Skipper offered him on May 28, and he committed the following day.

“It felt good to have a big school like that come after me, regardless of my rating,” Perine said. “It just showed me they really cared about me. Stars didn’t matter to them. They saw how much talent I had.”

But after his pledge, Perine didn’t receive the bump in rankings that typically happens when a prospect commits to a school such as Florida. He carried his 3-star rating into his senior season.

“It definitely bothered me,” Perine said. “I thought about it every day, actually. I know recruiting analysts can’t evaluate every kid, but I figured my Florida commitment would get me noticed and it didn’t. People kept doubting me.”

Lamical Perine established himself as Alabama’s best running back recruit in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Perine)
Lamical Perine established himself as Alabama’s best running back recruit in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Perine)

That fueled Perine as a senior, and he went on to rush for 1,654 yards and 15 touchdowns that fall. Ten games into his season, he got a called from Alabama coach Nick Saban.

“He wanted to offer me because I was playing so well,” Perine said. “He told me I had gotten faster and stronger since my junior year. Coach (Burton) Burns had been at my game that week to check me out, and I guess he decided to pull the trigger after watching me.”

The offer served as validation for Perine. In his state, you’re not a big-time recruit unless Saban wants you.

“I was very excited to have the offer,” Perine said. “There’s not too many running backs from this state that can say they got an offer from them because they recruit nationally.

“There’s nothing better than being in Alabama and saying you got an offer from the Crimson Tide. It’s the in-state school and you get a chance to play at home, but I wanted to try something different and go to Florida.”

Perine put one final stamp on his senior season when he was named the Class 7A running back of the year in Alabama. His team plays in the highest classification of high school football in the state.

“That was an amazing honor,” Perine said. “My mom enjoyed seeing me receive the award. To be labeled as the best back in Alabama, it felt good to finally get recognized.

“You know, I didn’t feel like I was getting respect throughout most of my recruitment. That’s all I really wanted. By the end of my senior season, I got all the respect I needed.”

Perine ultimately ended up with a 4-star rating from ESPN and Rivals. But regardless of where the recruiting services have him, Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is excited to add the 5-foot-11, 211-pound prospect to his backfield.

“Big, physical back,” Nussmeier said of Perine on signing day. “Has great instincts, vision, balance and body control. You go into that state and get the state back of the year, we’re eally, really excited about him. Great addition to our team.

“He runs behind his pads, does a great job in the open field, he has great balance and body control. Just really, really excited. Going into Alabama and get the No. 1 back in the state, he’s just another weapon that’s going to help us score points.”

Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi

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Top-100 overall recruit Zachary Carter commits to Florida

Zachary Carter is a four-star defensive end from Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough. ( Zach Abolverdi/AJC)
Zachary Carter is a four-star defensive end from Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough. ( Zach Abolverdi/AJC)

Florida landed another huge commitment Friday, this time from Zachary Carter.

The 4-star defensive end from Tampa (Fla.) chose the Gators over Clemson, Tennessee and South Florida. He announced his decision on Twitter.

Carter has visited UF twice this year and built a strong relationship with defensive line coach Chris Rumph, his primary recruiter.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound end is ranked as the No. 97 overall prospect and No. 4 strongside defensive end in the nation, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.

Florida now has nine members in its 2017 class, following the addition of Carter and 4-star cornerback Elijah Blades on Wednesday.

New Gator Antonneous Clayton addicted to more games than just football

Florida freshman defensive end Antonneous Clayton. (Zach Abolverdi/AJC)
Florida freshman defensive end Antonneous Clayton. (Zach Abolverdi/AJC)

VIENNA, Ga. — Football has not always been Antonneous Clayton’s first love.

For several years, it was another game.

“I’m a huge Call of Duty fan,” Clayton said.

But Clayton is not your typical athlete who likes to play video games as a hobby. His history with his Xbox is much deeper — and darker.

“I got my first Xbox in 2010,” Clayton said. “Ever since then, no one could stop me from playing. I never came out the door at all.”

Clayton, who enrolled at Florida this week, hasn’t always been the popular 5-star recruit he is today. Early on in high school, he was an outcast. Clayton had few friends and no aspirations, especially in football.

“I’ll be honest, I really didn’t take sports or school seriously,” Clayton said. “I wasn’t dumb at all. I was a major nerd, but I was a nerd who loved video games. That was the only thing I really ever cared about. I just figured I’d get my diploma, go work at Burger King and play Call of Duty every day.”

Clayton’s obsession with the game set in during his first year with an Xbox. The inaugural edition of ‘Black Ops’ came out in November of 2010.

During Thanksgiving break, Clayton and five of his friends agreed to do a week-long tournament. Clayton took it a step further.

“I stayed up for five days straight. No sleep at all,” Clayton said. “I dimmed the blinds, shut my curtains and turned the game on.”

Clayton bought five cases of red bull and several bags of Doritos to keep in his room. His mother didn’t approve of his escapade, but brought him meals nonetheless.

“She opened the door one time and my eyes were bloodshot red,” Clayton said. “It sounds crazy, but I know guys who’ve stayed up longer than that. The gaming community is very serious.”

There are seasonal tournaments every year for professional video gamers called the Major League Gaming (MLG) Championships. Clayton has competed in three of them (Dallas in 2012 and 2013, Anaheim in 2013).

“I did terrible,” Clayton said with a laugh. “I was still in high school, and you’ve got grown guys there who just game 24/7. So being young really limited me, but it was fun experience meeting other people who have the same passion as you.”

Those trips were a breath of fresh air for Clayton. Other than his group of friends, he had trouble relating to most kids his age.

“At first, I really used video games to escape from reality,” Clayton said. “I had a lot of problems socially. People would judge me and say I had no life. But I was around friends who loved me for who I am and what I did.

“I’m still cool with those people to this day. They’re really proud of me, too. They didn’t see football in future at all, and neither did I.”

Clayton didn’t join a team until eighth grade, and that year he cried in the locker room after a game because he didn’t get any playing time.

“I was actually nervous because so many guys were bigger than me,” Clayton said. “I wasn’t good enough to play. I always think back to that, because out of all those guys, I was the one.”

Clayton would blossom into a 6-foot-4, 230-pound defensive end with elite pass rushing skills. However, his talent didn’t get noticed by college coaches until the spring of his junior year.

Ole Miss offered him his first scholarship on March 26, 2015. Clayton would land 27 more offers in the next three months from a who’s who of big-time programs.

Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and the Gators won him over in the recruiting process.

“Coach Rumph thought somebody had modified my film,” Clayton said. “He told me there’s no way I could come out of my stance that fast. He actually thought somebody sped it up and put it on Hudl. Then he watched me in person and goes, ‘OK, you’re the guy.’ He told me I was a million dollars walking.”

That specific comment changed Clayton’s entire outlook on football — and life. He never viewed the game as a means to an end. Football, not Call of Duty, had just been a hobby to him until he became a coveted prospect.

“I realized I can have my family set for generations to come,” Clayton said. “Money isn’t everything, but it does eliminate most issues and most worries. The NFL is paying players millions of dollars to go tackle somebody. It’s completely insane, but why not? I’m blessed with the physical abilities.”

As a senior, Clayton shifted his focus from Call of Duty to the game of football. He hasn’t stopped being awake at crazy hours of the morning, but it’s not to play Xbox.

“I’m used to staying up late and now I do it to study,” Clayton said. “I get up between 3:00 and 4:00 every morning to work out. It’s a habit for me. I can’t help it. But I’ve made a major 180 degree turn, and I had to make a change.

“You owe football, football doesn’t owe you. You have to dedicate yourself to the game and to your team. It helped form me as a person. It helped me take things more seriously. It helped me make wiser decisions. I found something that I can truly cherish, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Clayton still plays Call of Duty regularly and said he’ll be a gamer for life. He also hopes EA Sports can bring back NCAA Football before he’s done at Florida.

As for the potential millions awaiting him in the NFL, Clayton plans to take the Marshawn Lynch approach with his money.

“I’m not really a big spender,” Clayton said. “If I were to get rich, I’d mostly save it and just eat food. I don’t get a lot of shoes and clothes. I might buy some video games.”

Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi

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Brett Heggie grew up a Seminole, but FSU legacy is Florida bound

From left to right, Florida coach Jim McElwain, Brett Heggie, offensive line coach Mike Summers and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. (Photo courtesy of Heggie)
From left to right, Florida coach Jim McElwain, Brett Heggie, offensive line coach Mike Summers and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. (Photo courtesy of Heggie)

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — Bruce Heggie lost to the Gators in all four games during his playing career at Florida State.

He finally won last summer in Gainesville, Fla., but so did the University of Florida.

Heggie came to Florida’s Friday Night Lights with his son, Brett Heggie. The Under Armour All-American center committed to the Gators at the event, a moment that even made a Seminole smile.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic over his decision to come to UF and be part of their program,” Bruce Heggie said after his son’s commitment on July 24. “They have outstanding academics and athletics. Everything was a good fit for him here.”

Bruce Heggie played linebacker at FSU from 1983-1986 under legendary coach Bobby Bowden. But when it came time for his kids to pick a school, he didn’t steer them toward the Seminoles.

“My dad had no influence as to where I should go,” Brett Heggie said. “He told me to do what’s best for me. He wanted it to be my own decision, so he was extremely happy when I chose Florida.”

It’s not the first time one of Bruce Heggie’s kids has attended UF. His son Ben goes there now as a mechanical engineering student. His oldest child, Bruce Jr., played football at Notre Dame.

Bruce brought Brett to Florida State and Notre Dame games during his childhood. But had the Irish or Seminoles offered his youngest son, the family ties to those teams would’ve hurt them.

“As a little kid, I’d go to Doak (Campbell Stadium) and root for (the Seminoles),” Brett Heggie said. “Then I kind of lived that recruiting process with my brother and went to his games. But when I started getting offers at 15, I wanted to do my own thing.

“My brother went to Notre Dame and my dad went to Florida State, so I decided I wasn’t going to any one of those teams. That was set in stone very early in my recruitment.”

Heggie fell in love with the coaches and environment at Florida, becoming the most solid member of the 2016 class. He was the first commitment to fax in his letter of intent on signing day.

By then, his father had fully switched sides in the rivalry.

“He played for FSU, but he’s all Gator now,” Heggie said. “I’m staying in the state, going to a top 10 university and playing in the SEC. My parents can come see me because it’s not a far drive, so everything worked out well for him.

“He has two out of his four kids going to Florida now. That’ll make you change to orange and blue.”

Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi

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Gators land one of their top recruiting targets in 4-star cornerback

Elijah Blades, a 4-star cornerback from Pasadena, Calif. (Courtesy 247Sports)
Elijah Blades, a 4-star cornerback from Pasadena, Calif. (Courtesy 247Sports)

The cornerback position may be the top priority for the Florida Gators in their 2017 class, and they began filling that need Wednesday.

UF picked up a verbal commitment from Elijah Blades, a 4-star cornerback from John Muir High School in Pasadena, Calif. Blades announced his decision on Twitter, choosing the Gators over Arizona.

https://twitter.com/savageszniv/status/745678633054830592

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound prospect, who has been clocked at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash, visited Florida for the first time earlier this month.

“This visit was kind of a big deal,” Blades told SEC Country following his trip. “I can see myself there.”

Blades in the 222nd overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite and ranks No. 26 both at his position and in the state of California.

The Gators now have eight members in their 2017 class, and Blades is first the cornerback. He’s also gives Florida four consensus 4-star commits, joining quarterback Jake Allen, wide receiver Daquon Green and tight end Kemore Gamble, and seven overall.

Two other prospects, athlete Kadarius Toney and Kadeem Telfort, have a 4-star rating from at least two recruiting services. Toney holds offers from Alabama and South Carolina, while Telfort has SEC offers from Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee.

Florida Gators announce search committee to find new athletics director

Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley speaks on during an introductory press conference on December 6, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. Jim McElwain has left Colorado State and replaces ex-Florida head coach Will Muschamp who was fired earlier this season.
Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley speaks on during an introductory press conference on December 6, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. Jim McElwain has left Colorado State and replaces ex-Florida head coach Will Muschamp who was fired earlier this season.

University of Florida president Kent Fuchs has appointed a search committee to hire a new athletics director, the school announced Wednesday.

The eight-member committee consists of constituents within the university and athletic department. UF trustee and board chairman Manny Fernandez will chair the search. Continue reading “Florida Gators announce search committee to find new athletics director”

Recruit Jawaan Taylor lost nearly 50 pounds to land Gators offer

Florida freshman offensive guard Jawaan Taylor before (left) and after his dramatic weight loss. (247Sports/AJC)
Florida freshman offensive guard Jawaan Taylor before (left) and after his dramatic weight loss. (247Sports/AJC)

COCOA — 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

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