Throughout most of his high school career, Jawaan Taylor was known more for his prodigious appetite than his work ethic.
But that all changed — and his life started changing — the summer before the start of his senior season. That’s when his only big-time scholarship offer was a contingent one. University of Florida coaches told Taylor, a little-known three-star recruit who was pushing 400 pounds, that he would be offered only if he lost considerable weight and got himself in better shape.
That’s when he went to work, driven to do what he had to do to earn that UF offer, and he succeeded.
That new-found work ethic he first embraced the summer before his senior season at Cocoa High School has been with him ever since, and it’s led him to where he is today — in Nashville, about to become a possible top-10 NFL draft pick tonight.
“I had my weight loss in high school, and then I got to college and just wanted to better myself as a player,” Taylor said. “I went every single day, in the film room, on the field, in the weight room, nutrition, as well. So it paid off for me.”
It certainly has.
The consensus among draft analysts and experts is that Taylor will be a top-10 pick tonight, going either to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the seventh pick or the Buffalo Bills with the ninth selection.
Both of those teams have a major need at offensive tackle, and Taylor is rated the No. 1 offensive tackle in the draft.
Taylor likely will be the only Gator taken in tonight’s first round, although there’s an outside chance his former high school teammate, safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, could go late in the round.
Taylor seems a sure bet tonight.
He has come a long way — and lost a lot of weight and gained a lot of strength — since summer 2015, when his remarkable journey began.
Anyone who hasn’t seen Taylor since then probably would not recognize him. Weighing in at 384 pounds coming off his junior year in high school, Taylor is now a trim, muscular 314 pounds — and maybe the only offensive lineman in the draft with six-pack abs.
“A lot of people are like, “You’re the only guy out there, lineman, with a six pack,’ ” he said. “I hear that all the time. I’m just working hard.”
Taylor has clearly put in the work at Florida, where he started 35 games in three seasons and changed his body type along the way.
“I just wanted to work hard,” he said. “I came here with high expectations of myself and tried to reach my goals at the end of the day. It all paid off, especially choosing one of the best universities in the country.
“I don’t think anyone back home is surprised. A lot of people know how hard I’ve worked just to get where I’m at. So, nobody’s really surprised. They’re just happy for me.”
UF coach Dan Mullen said Taylor’s transformation from overweight three-star recruit to possible top-10 draft pick is a great example of what hard work and dedication can lead to.
“For a lot of the younger players, it shows that if you buy in and you work your tail off, you have an opportunity to go live your dreams, which is to be an NFL player,” Mullen said. “If you’ve watched him, he’s a guy that’s worked to put himself in that position.
“You look at him with his size, and he’s got great pop and he’s really athletic. He’s a guy that’s taken it and really developed himself with his athleticism and grown to put himself in a position to be a top-10 pick in the draft.”
Of his 35 starts at UF, 33 came at right tackle. The other two were at left tackle his sophomore year.
The Jaguars have a huge need at right tackle, so he would be a good fit in Jacksonville. The Bills are looking for help at left tackle.
Taylor said he’s open to playing at whatever position he’s needed with the team that selects him.
“I’m not against any position,” he said. “I’m willing to play whatever to help the team win. So, if they want me at guard, keep me in at guard. If you want me at left tackle, right tackle, I’m going to play it.
“I’m looking forward to just coming in and helping the team right away. Whatever position they want me to play, I’m going to play it. So, it doesn’t matter to me.”
What does matter is that Taylor, once a little-known and overweight recruit just a few years ago, is going to be a first-round draft pick tonight.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Coming from where I’m from not a lot of people get to do this or have this opportunity, so it’s a blessing for me and my family and everybody back home.”
Where the Florida players project to go in the NFL draft:
Player; Position; Round
Jawaan Taylor; OT; 1
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson; S; 2
Jachai Polite; DE/OLB; 2-4
Vosean Joseph; LB; 3-4
Cece Jefferson; DE/OLB; 5-7
Martez Ivey; OT; 5-7
Jordan Scarlett; RB; 7-Free agent
Fred Johnson; OG; FA
Tyler Jordan; C/OG; FA
Khairi Clark; DT; FA
C’yontai Lewis; TE; FA
Dre Massey; WR; FA
— Robbie Andreu
What: The 84th meeting of National Football League franchises to select newly eligible players.
When: Today-Saturday. The first round starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by the second and third rounds at 7 p.m. Friday and will conclude with rounds 4-7 starting at 2 p.m. Saturday.
TV: ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM