Alabama safety explains why he’ll play for Florida Gators

Jim McElwain (AP File)

Jim McElwain (AP File)

Smitty Grider, a 30-year coaching veteran at Alabama’s Park Crossing High School, hasn’t coached a smarter football player than Jeawon Taylor, the 3-star safety who decided to play his college ball out of state this week.

That’s why you can find Taylor, who committed to Florida over Auburn on Wednesday, on the sidelines every Monday night at Park Crossing barking out secondary coverages to the junior varsity team.

“I really don’t know what I’m going to do next year when he’s gone,” Grider jokingly admits. “We have a lot of guys that depend on him, honestly. When we take him out at practice, he’s still making the calls and the checks. We have to make him stop so we can get the other kids to do it.”

Taylor, who’s ranked as the No. 31 safety in the country, has served as an extension on the field for Park Crossing’s coaching staff since Grider arrived last March. When the staff installed a new defense, Taylor was the first to digest it.

“Every kid out there looks to him for every answer,” Grider said. “I’ve just never coached someone who’s so good at picking it up and taking it to the field like he does.”

That’s because you’d be hard-pressed to find him doing anything that’s not football-related. During the offseason, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound safety wakes up at 5 a.m. three times a week to meet his trainer, where he’ll push a 185-pound sled or perform 35-inch box jumps.

Jeawon Taylor (Justin Hokanson/247Sports)

Jeawon Taylor (Justin Hokanson/247Sports)

He follows that up with a seven-hour school day, before heading off to practice for two hours. But it’s what Taylor does at home late at night that separates him from his peers.

“After I shower and eat dinner, I’m in my room watching film for an hour-and-a-half each night,” Taylor said.

But you can’t forget the 200 crunches and 200 push-ups, either.

“Nothing too heavy,” Taylor says.

In order for Taylor to get to where he wants to go, an ideal path that includes stops at the NFL and the Hall of Fame, preparation must be a priority.

That’s why Grider, who’s sent off dozens of players to Division I programs, doesn’t hesitate to compare Taylor to current NFL linebacker Will Herring, whom he coached at Opelika High School. Grider says while Herring is the only player he can recall that could absorb as much as Taylor, the comparison isn’t close.

“To grasp what we’re doing defensively — even back then it was a lot simpler than what we do now — it’s not even close,” Grider said. “Don’t get me wrong: Will is a great player, and a very intelligent football player. He’s in the NFL. But that’s the kind of level that I’m talking about.”

Much to Grider’s surprise, Taylor went fairly unnoticed until this past spring, before picking up 12 offers, including Auburn, Louisville and Kentucky. And while many schools thought he would remain in-state, Taylor, who emulates his playing style after former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor (not related to Jeawon), crossed the state line to commit Florida much to his mother’s surprise.

“Florida will be a great fit for me,” Taylor said. “The best defensive backs go there, and I feel like I’m one of the best.”

In the end, it’s where Taylor felt most comfortable, too. He’s developed strong relationships with Florida defensive backs coach Kirk Callahan and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. And by this time next year, his coach believes he could have his shot.

“I think it’ll be a great fit,” Grider said. “I’ve told all the guys recruiting him that I think he’s a guy that can come in and play as a freshman. I know they have some great guys this year that they’ll be losing, but that may be a great opportunity for him there.”

Added Grider: “He’s a special player.”

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