Madison, Wis. – Jonathan Taylor packed on muscle to get ready for the pounding that will come from defenses that will try to bring him down this season.
The sophomore is no longer an unknown commodity in the Big Ten.
The record-breaking running back is a star as training camp opens for the Wisconsin Badgers, a year after rising from relative anonymity to Heisman Trophy candidate.
“We always talk about how physically, you better be ready. It’s the Big Ten, you’re going to get hit,” Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle said Wednesday at Wisconsin’s media day. “You need to do all you need to do in the offseason to prepare your body to take that pounding.
“He held to that … and then some.”
Michigan plays Wisconsin this season in a Big Ten divisional crossover game – Oct. 13 in Ann Arbor – but Michigan State does not.
Training camp begins Thursday for the Badgers, whose roster lists Taylor at 5-foot-11 and 221 pounds, up seven pounds from his listed weight as a freshman.
All Taylor did then was run for 1,977 yards, setting a major college record for a freshman. He finished sixth in the Heisman voting.
That’s quite the finish for a running back who wasn’t even listed on the two-deep to start the 2017 season. Taylor first made his mark during a camp scrimmage last year, a performance that had teammates buzzing.
“I remember asking (offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph), ‘Is JT going to play?’” right tackle David Edwards said in recounting the scrimmage. “He goes, ‘Yeah, he’s going to play.’”
No questions this year about the depth chart. Taylor is the starter, and he said one of his top goals is to be more consistent.
Taylor did have ball-protection issues at times, especially later in the season. Taylor didn’t refer directly to his fumbles when asked about his goals for this year, though he did say that he wanted to be more “available” for his coaches and teammates.
“Just be in whenever they need me. When they say ‘Hey, we need JT,’ … I definitely want to be available,” Taylor said.
He showed that he was adept at handling pressure as attention mounted after every big game last year. Taylor rebounded from a season-low 41-yard outing in the loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game with 130 carries on 26 yards in the Orange Bowl victory over Miami.
Coach Paul Chryst was impressed with the way Taylor handled the hype.
“I think a year ago, I couldn’t have said ‘This is what JT is going to do this season,’ and you certainly don’t know how he’s going to handle all those things that come along with it,” Chryst said. “He’ll continue to grow, I’m sure and learn. I really like where he’s at and how he’s handling it.”
Taylor starts the season in the Heisman conversation. He’s a focal point of a loaded offense that returns a veteran line, improving quarterback Alex Hornibrook and a deep group of young, athletic receivers.
To teammates, Taylor is still just one of the guys. They say that he has the same team-first attitude and dedicated work ethic that he had when he started last year’s camp as a freshman buried on the depth chart.
“Just working that much harder, pushing myself that much more,” Taylor said about his offseason routine this year. “Every single rep, pushing to the limit.”