Indianapolis Colts All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor talks to camp participants at his third annual youth football camp at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Collin Conway/D2 Sports Network
GLASSBORO (N.J.) - In the midst of NFL running backs advocating for sufficient compensation, Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Jonathan Taylor offered his insight, but opted to occupy his time giving back to his hometown.
Taylor hosted his third annual youth football camp at Rowan University on July 22. The camp has previously taken place in Taylor's hometown, but with Salem High School's football stadium currently under construction, the event was moved to South Jersey's largest university. Approximately 500 kids from ages 5 to 13 participated in Taylor's camp this summer.
"If you really do the right things, you can really get to where you want to go," Taylor said. "Know your purpose. ... When you give back, it goes a long way."
The Colts star running back set a South Jersey record for rushing yards in a single season with 2,815 yards as a senior at Salem. Taylor shattered the previous record set by former Glassboro star and Super Bowl LII champion Corey Clement, who rushed for 2,510 yards in 2011. Taylor also scored 37 total touchdowns and was honored as the Jim Henry Award winner for New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware as a senior.
As a student, Taylor always challenged himself with rigorous courses and participated in his school's International Baccalaureate Program. Only five to seven students on average dedicated themselves to the program due a lack of interest in a demanding amount of course work. Taylor's participation motivated others to join as 19 students enrolled in the program during his junior year. Since then, the school averages 20-35 students a year in the International Baccalaureate Program.
The Rams' football program accumulated a 25-9 record and appeared in two South Jersey Group 1 finals across Taylor's final three seasons on campus. He concluded his interscholastic career with 4,642 rushing yards and 49 touchdowns.
"This is what we always talked about," former Salem coach Montrey Wright said. "At Salem, we always talked about giving back. This is what it looks like. ... This is why he goes so hard in the league to be able to do things like this."
Taylor played under Wright's direction for two seasons and also competed for two seasons when current Syracuse director of high school relations Dennis Thomas was at the helm. Taylor's commitment to serving the Salem City community has stood out to those that witnessed his growth.
"He wears his jersey on his sleeve," Wright added. "When we got times like this to celebrate him, we want to make sure we do it the right way. We're extremely proud of him. I'm not surprised he's interested in giving back to the kids. That's the kind of person he is."
The camp has grown in size in each year since its inception. This year, Marcus Boyd of Boyd Photography/Boothbusters displayed a photo tent that allowed each participant to take a picture with Taylor. The photos were instantaneously printed out and distributed to campers at the end of the session to keep.
Various drills and skill competitions were dispersed across the length and width of Richard Wacker Stadium as volunteer coaches instructed campers, by age group, through each activity. Taylor was actively engaged with a smile on his face through each interaction.
"That's a testimony to Jonathan and his character as a player in the NFL," Wright said. "And how the kids view him in the NFL. We're happy. Everything's going the way we expected it to. We couldn't be more blessed."
The All-Pro running back set Colts franchise records for rushing yards in a single season (1,811), rushing touchdowns in a single season (18), rushing yards in a single game (253) and total touchdowns in a single game (5).
In college, he was a two-time unanimous first-team All-American and won the Doak Walker Award twice. Taylor was a three-time consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection at Wisconsin and still holds the NCAA Division I FBS record for the most 200-yard rushing games (12) in a career.
It's easy to see why Taylor has a prominent influence on aspiring professional players in the area. His success on the gridiron at high levels has illustrated the possibilities for local athletes who remain persistent.
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor poses for a photo with current Salem High School football players and camp participants at his third annual youth football camp at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey on Saturday, July 22, 2023. Collin Conway/D2 Sports Network
Temple safeties Alex Odom and Muheem McCargo were among on-field spectators at the event. Both have been influenced by Taylor's football prosperity.
Odom charted a career-high 75 tackles for the Owls last season and was tied for the team lead in interceptions (2). The Kingsway (N.J.) graduate also made the American Athletic Conference Honor Roll. McCargo, a Woodrow Wilson (N.J.) graduate, recorded a sack against UMass, an interception against Houston, and tallied 44 tackles with four tackles for loss in 12 games played last season.
For Odom, only 15 miles separate Salem City from his hometown of Swedesboro.
"It's definitely motivation for me," Odom said. "He was a senior when I was a freshman in high school. I started my freshman year of high school by seeing him and knowing other players that were big in South Jersey. It was definitely motivating."
It fueled Odom's drive to play Division I football. He proceeded to commit to Temple as a high school junior on April 6, 2019. Odom also saw Taylor for the first time at the Woodbury Relays in 2017 and was astonished by the running back's coveted speed.
"(I used to tell myself), I'm so closed to getting to Division I college football," Odom said. "If I want to get there, he was the prime example of it. Just working hard. He was a dominant force on the field. ... This is what I got to be if I want to get to the next level."
Odom's knowledge of Taylor's football resume paired with becoming an eyewitness of his blazing quickness at the Woodbury Relays made their interaction that much more special when the former Kingsway standout was greeted by Taylor for the first time in his life on the turf at Rowan University.
"To finally meet him and talk to him now, it was definitely tough," Odom said. "From my freshman year of high school to being a senior in college now and to see how much I've grown. I stuck to what I was saying and having that motivation around me. It was definitely a special moment for sure."
Taylor's uprising from Salem makes his accomplishments even more remarkable. The small, 2.4 square mile port city is home to just over 5,000 people and is considered a food desert by the state, according to Salem City Council President Earl Gage.
Nested in the state's most rural county in a pocket along the Delaware Bay, the city is described as "economically challenged" with the median income being $26,667 per United States Census Bureau data. Salem also has a persons in poverty percentage of 37.8%. The state average sits at only 10.2%.
For McCargo, to see Taylor overcome challenges has pushed him through his journey that originated in Camden, New Jersey.
"That's big motivation for me," McCargo said. "Knowing where I come from, not having much, and being able to see guys like him go through that process in high school and into college to get to the NFL. Just to see that even through all the ups and downs, just to see him keep going and pushing through, it's a big accomplishment. It makes me work harder to try to get to that level to see how things are for me and try to be able to do that for others as well."
Taylor has provided an annual scholarship to a Salem High School graduate that excelled in the classroom and on the athletic field for the past three years. He has also donated cleats to the Rams football program and provided cases of Campbell's soup to the school's food drive, among other charitable deeds.
"J.T. is extremely humble and gives back because he can, and truly wants to help the community," Salem principal John Mulhorn said. "J.T. loves Salem and its residents. He is proud to say he has Ram Pride and does not forget where he came from. The town is a strong community in spite of the poverty. People pull together and look out for one another. I know J.T. holds dear to his heart what the community did for him. ... He knows the people in Salem love him and pull for him."