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2020 NFL Draft: How Jonathan Taylor stumbled upon football

NFL.com's "Why I Play" series provides a thoughtful peek into the minds of the next generation of NFL players to better understand what drives them to make it in the league. Other prospects included in this series: TCU DT Ross Blacklock, Auburn DT Derrick Brown, LSU CB Kristian Fulton, TCU CB Jeff Gladney, Florida edge Jonathan Greenard, USC OT Austin Jackson, Utah CB Jaylon Johnson, Michigan LB Josh Uche and Minnesota S Antoine Winfield Jr. This edition's featured prospect is ...

2020 NFL Draft standing: Taylor is projected to be an early-round pick and sits at No. 35 in NFL.com draft expert Daniel Jeremiah's top 50 prospect rankings.

Prospect bio: Taylor had a wildly successful career in his three seasons at Wisconsin. As a true freshman 2017, he earned unanimous first-team All-American honors after logging 299 carries for 1,977 yards and 13 TDs in 14 games. He followed up his breakout campaign with back-to-back seasons of 2,000 rushing yards, with that two-year total (4,197) ranking third-best in NCAA history, behind only fellow Badger Melvin Gordon and Iowa State's Troy Davis. Taylor scored a total of 55 touchdowns as a collegian.

This interview, conducted via phone call on April 9, was condensed and edited for clarity.

How I started

I used to play outside with my cousin, Amani Justice, when we were little, but that stopped for about a year. I learned that he had signed up for football and his practices made it so we couldn't play. I asked my mom to sign me up in sixth grade so we could both play football together. Honestly, if Amani never had stopped coming outside, there would have been no reason for me to play football.

I never played any organized sports until football, and once I got into high school, I started to play football and run track. I played on special teams my freshman year, gained a larger role in the offense my sophomore year and I was RB1 as a junior. I started getting recruited by Division I schools after that season, and that's when I got the notion that I could play after high school. I was surprised to receive that kind of attention from good football programs because it was my first year carrying the load. I was just having fun up to that point, but when it set in that I could play at the next level, I started to do a little extra to make sure I was constantly getting better.

What motivates me

Honestly, I'm trying to see how far I can go. How can I develop myself into the best football player I can be? Football started as fun, then developed into a passion. I missed out on a lot of information when I was younger, just getting a later start -- I didn't know what a three-point stance was -- and there's so much you have to learn. I want to push myself to see where I can get to.

I love to play this game, and it's exciting to see how one person, one play or a team can develop. You see guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, Saquon Barkley, and how far they've come. I want to emulate what they've done and see how far I can take it. To push myself to the limit and break through boundaries.

My biggest challenge

I think one challenge is coming from a small town, playing against small schools, which people think don't have "athletes." Coming out of high school, there were questions about the level of competition. What is legit? Or is this kid just better than the "low-level" competition? I had this stigma going into college, coming in as fourth on the depth chart. I didn't have a problem with that because college is a whole new ballgame, but I had to break those labels. Even on a team level, there were limits around us about what people think we can do or can't do. The best thing you can do is work hard, show appreciation to those who do believe in you and continue to prove others wrong. That will always be a challenge in life.

My inspirations

I'm inspired by the people who came before me. Those in the Wisconsin RB room like Alan Ameche, Ron Dayne, Melvin Gordon, and those in the league like Zeke, Todd Gurley, Saquon and so many others. I look up to those guys, but my favorite running back is Arian Foster. He never wanted to be put in one lane in football and life outside of it. Even as a bigger back, everything he did was so smooth and natural. I actually met him after my final year of college. I didn't want to ask too many things because I wanted to respect him, but also you don't know how many times you'll get this chance. But we've kept in touch, and I'm glad he's in my corner.

Follow Brooke Cersosimo on Twitter @BCersosimo.

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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