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Versatile safety Jason Taylor II uses football to honor late father

Oklahoma State safety and NFL Draft prospect Jason Taylor II is a versatile defensive back who logged a significant amount of snaps in the box, as a free safety and covering the slot during his last two seasons as a Cowboy. His experience playing multiple roles makes him a good fit in Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s system, but Taylor II never would have picked up a pigskin if it weren’t for his father who bore the same name.

In fact, the younger Jason didn’t even know he was on his way to his first practice when his dad took him for a car ride one day at seven years old.

“I wasn’t even going to play football when I was growing up,” Taylor told Silver and Black Pride during an exclusive interview. “I started playing when I was seven. My dad just took me to practice one day and didn’t tell me where I was going.

“… My mom didn’t want me to play. You know, she [was] scared of the injuries and my grandfather had played baseball and basketball, he never really played football. … My cousins weren’t really in love with football either. So I was really like the only one besides my dad that really liked football.”

Back in the day, the elder Jason was a defensive lineman at Langston University, an HBCU in Langston, Oklahoma that competes in the NAIA. Clearly, he was determined to pass the love he had for the gridiron onto his son despite his wife’s wishes that their baby boy remain a spectator. Garlynn, Taylor II’s mother, has come around since then now that her son has played the game for over 15 years and will soon be a professional.

Unfortunately, Taylor II’s father didn’t get to see him play for more than a couple of seasons. A little more than a year after dropping his son off at practice, he passed away when Jason II was just eight years old. That created an emotional connection with the sport for him.

“Definitely, Definitely, definitely,” Taylor II responded when asked if he uses football to carry on his father’s legacy. “Even my name, I make sure I was put my second on my name, you know? Yeah, it meant a lot to him and it means a lot to me, and I just want to carry that.”

Texas v Oklahoma State

Jason Taylor II intercepts a pass with ‘Taylor II’ proudly displayed on his nameplate.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Family is and always has been important to Taylor II. He grew up with two sisters who were volleyball stars, which was passed down to them from their mother, and one of the girls played at Langston while the other chose not to play in college. Growing up with athletes throughout the household created a competitive family environment that Taylor II says has helped shape him today.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” he replied when asked if he was constantly competing with his siblings. “Even my cousins, my cousins are like my siblings [with] how we grew up.

“[One of] my biggest influences is my grandfather, he was always playing catch in the backyard and just doing everything. … Those are some of the things that are like the foundation of [who I am] today.

“So, my mother, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, we have a family where it was all of us. You know, it was all of us really together and my aunts and uncles were like my second parents as well. My grandparents were like my parents as well. … And we all were competitive, very, very competitive.”

Jason II said he and his family used to play basketball in their grandparents’ backyard but instead of concrete, the hoop was placed in a patch of grass. The Taylors hooped so much that the grass ended up dying and playing more like a natural court surface.

Outside of playing in the backyard with his family, Taylor II became a three-star safety recruit coming out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Oklahoma. One of the first big colleges to show him love by offering him a scholarship was nearby Oklahoma State.

Stillwater is about an hour and 15-minute drive from his hometown, and the combination of the school’s proximity to home and belief in him early in the recruiting process made his decision easy on signing day.

“I didn’t get recruited a lot at first but once I hit my junior year, like it all came. … I just went on a couple of visits to try to figure out where I was gonna go and Oklahoma State was one of the schools that was there from the beginning.

“Even when I had smaller Division One schools or smarter schools to offer me, [OSU was] always there. A lot of people think I went to OSU because it’s at home, just a hour-15 away, but really, [their interest in me early in the process is] the reason I went. On my visit, it kind of just felt good. They were the ones who had been there from the beginning.”

Perhaps one of Taylor II’s biggest accomplishments as a Cowboy actually came off the field. In 2020, he was named to the Big-12’s All-Academic team due to his success in the classroom. That’s something he takes great pride in and is rooted in his upbringing as his mother always stressed academics growing up.

“I take pride in [my schoolwork]. My mom was always on me growing up … I couldn’t go practice if I didn’t finish [my homework] so that motivated me as well. So you know, it’s always been something that I’ll take pride in.”

He continued to say that his mom had a GPA requirement for him to stay on the field in high school and would check to make sure he turned in all of his assignments. And you can bet he’d hear about it if he didn’t.

West Virginia v Oklahoma State

Jason Taylor II before handing his mother an orange rose and football on Senior Day
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Jason II said his mom backed off a bit when he got to college but, obviously, the emphasis she placed on academics stuck with him during his time in Stillwater. He now has a degree in business and plans to pay it forward when his playing days are over by creating a training facility in his hometown.

“During the process of getting ready for the combine or the pro days we go to these [training facilities]. I went to Florida to train and a lot of guys go to Exos and other places you hear about. I kind of want to make a place like that in Oklahoma, a training facility, because in Oklahoma there is really nothing that is kind of like that.”

With the NFL in the near future, the Cowboy continues to train and build upon the versatile skill set mentioned above. His favorite spot on the field is as a deep or free safety, but he feels his attributes will allow him to play in the box or “pretty much anywhere” at the next level.

As mentioned above, versatility is important for safeties in Graham’s defense which could make Taylor II a great fit for the Silver and Black.

“Oh yeah, that’d definitely be attractive,” he replied when asked about playing in Graham’s scheme. “I always want to try to get to a place where I feel like one, I can help the team immediately. Two, where everything I can do will be used. Sometimes I’m going to be playing in the box or sometimes I’ll be playing high just based on what’s better for the game and what’s better at the time and what I can do better.

“Teams have asked me the same question; ‘Where do I see myself playing?’ … When I went to the Senior Bowl, I played a little bit of linebacker in the game. A lot of guys talked about that, me being able to play anywhere. So I think that’s something they have in mind for me.”

Taylor II also told S&BP that he’s been in constant contact with Calvin Branch, an area scout for the Raiders, and has met with a few other people from the club, so the team has some interest in drafting the defensive back. He’d also be a welcomed sight on the team’s defense.

At the combine, Josh McDaniels talked about wanting to add defenders who can make plays on the ball. Las Vegas was tied for the fewest interceptions in the league last season with just six. In 2022, Taylor II tied for third in the country with six picks and ranked No. 5 overall among active FBS players with three non-offensive touchdowns heading into the campaign.

In his words, ball skills and being able to make explosive players are a couple of his biggest strengths which he attributes to the time he’s spent in the film room.

“I think at first it just was natural. But once … I got a couple of years into college, I realized I’ve got to study film, and that’s how I’ve made it the way it is now. Just film study or being able to feel the team, feel the flow, feel the things that they do. And I think that’s what I kind of attribute my playmaking to. That and my instincts.”

Taylor II also has experience playing special teams at a high level, earning a 90.9 special teams grade from Pro Football Focus in 2021. Especially since he’s looking at a mid- to late-round draft selection, that experience is something he feels will also help him stand out among other prospects.

“I think that’s a big part of who I am as a player, being able to be versatile, to play any special teams, any position and do it at a high level. I’ve done special teams pretty much my whole career at Oklahoma State. So it’s not something new, it’s not something I’m gonna be uncomfortable doing or something I have to really learn.”

As for what general manager Dave Ziegler and the Raiders will be getting if they choose to select Jason Taylor II during next month’s draft:

“A player who is very versatile,” Taylor II replied. “I can pretty much do whatever is asked of me and do it at a high level. I’m a hard worker, I have leadership skills and I’ve played special teams. So I think that I can be an attribute to any team and can possibly make a big difference in the first year that I’m there. … That’s who I am, I’ve always been like that and it won’t be anything new, honestly.”

Jason Taylor I is undoubtedly looking down and is proud of what his son has and will continue to accomplish on and off the field.

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