Jonathan Taylor never ran track in middle school.

He didn't run track as a freshman at Salem High School, either.

"When I was a sophomore, my friend said, 'Why don't we go out for track?' " Taylor said. "I didn't know anything about it. I thought you already had to be fast to even go out."

Taylor already was fast.

He got faster.

And while Taylor made his biggest impression as a scholastic athlete on the football field, it was his work on the track that set him apart.

Taylor is the South Jersey senior male athlete of the year because he ran over opponents in the fall and away from them in the spring.

Actually, Taylor ran away from opponents in the fall as well, but he seemed to prefer taking a more direct and physical route to the end zone.

"My coach [Montrey Wright] always told me, 'Deliver the blow, don't receive it,' " Taylor said.

When Taylor was in eighth grade, Salem's football team went 0-10.

"Nobody was in the stands for their games," Taylor recalled.

Last season, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Taylor led Salem to a 9-3 record and a berth in the South Jersey 1 title game.

Taylor set a modern-era state record with 2,815 rushing yards and also scored 35 touchdowns.

Despite his blazing speed, Taylor was a physical runner, finishing nearly every carry by lowering his shoulder and powering into defenders.

"He's an animal, a beast," Salem junior star Zaire Jones said after a playoff victory over Haddon Heights. "He's the greatest running back I've ever seen in high school. He's the fastest kid in the state, and he runs over people."

Salem games in the Rams' quaint old stadium on Walnut Street became the place to be during Taylor's career, especially during his senior season, as he averaged more than 250 yards on his home field.

In three Group 1 state tournament games, Taylor ran for 812 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"It's been an honor and a privilege to work with a student-athlete like Jonathan," Wright said. "He is an inspiration to his peers, the community, and the high school family.

"Being a small-town kid and being noticed across the East Coast speaks volumes about his character."

Taylor ran for 242 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries in a 36-10 win over Woodstown in the annual Thanksgiving Day game.

"Jonathan was a beast this year," Woodstown coach John Adams said. "If one guy on the defense was out of position, he had the vision to see it and the explosiveness to take advantage of it."

Taylor has signed to attend the University of Wisconsin on a football scholarship, hoping to follow in the footsteps of former South Jersey running backs Ron Dayne and Corey Clement, who excelled for the Badgers.

Taylor also is a top student who was a member of Salem's international baccalaureate program. He said he plans to major in biochemistry at Wisconsin.

"It's really starting to hit me," Taylor said the other day. "Before I was like, 'Oh, I still got a few more track meets' or 'I still got this to do or that to do.' But now it's really hitting me that my high school career is over, and I'm getting ready to go away to college.

"I know I need to kick it up a notch, go to the next level, get with a new weight program, get to know my new teammates."

Wright said Taylor has the makeup to excel on the football field and in the classroom at Wisconsin.

"I look forward to the great things he is going to accomplish at the next level playing football for the University of Wisconsin Badgers but more importantly what he is going to accomplish in life," Wright said. "From a Salem Ram to a Wisconsin Badger, there will only be one Jonathan Taylor."

Taylor said support from teachers, coaches, teammates, and family members was the secret to his success.

"I'm most proud of the support I had," Taylor said. "During school year, I do a lot. People think it's just going to track meets, running fast, or winning football games, but there's a lot that happens behind the scenes.

"I'm also proud of my work ethic and how determined I was to show you can be from a small school, you can just have a few kids in the school, and you can still do big things."

Taylor was officially crowned as the fastest man in the state.

Twice.

He won the 100 meters at the Meet of Champions as a junior and senior.

The last athlete to do that also was a football star: former Paramus Catholic standout Jabrill Peppers, who played at Michigan and was a first-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns in April.

Taylor ran the 100 in 10.61 seconds to win the title in 2016 and in 10.63 into a 21/2-mph headwind to win the title in 2017.

He also ran a personal-best time of 10.49 in the sectional meet in late May.

And he nearly didn't run track in high school.

"I never really thought that much about track," Taylor said. "I had a friend who convinced me. I was like, 'OK, I'll try it.'

"And I just kept getting better and better."

Here are five other seniors who stood out among the crowd this school year:

Bo Melton, Cedar Creek

Melton was a football star who also excelled on the track for the Pirates. He was a two-time, first-team all-South Jersey selection in football, and was offensive player of the year as a junior. As a senior, Melton battled a knee ailment but still caught nine touchdown passes and led Cedar Creek to a 10-2 record and a berth in the South Jersey Group 2 finals. In track, Melton was the Group 2 state champion in the 100 meters, running 10.87 seconds. He is a Rutgers recruit for football.

Cade Antonucci, Holy Spirit

Antonucci made an impact with his arm and his foot. He was a first-team, all-South Jersey punter for the Holy Spirit football team, which went 9-3 and reached the Non-Public 2 state finals. In track, Antonucci battled a shoulder ailment for much of the spring but showed his ability at the Meet of Champions by winning the javelin with a toss of 220 feet, 11 inches, the second-longest throw in South Jersey history. He is an Auburn recruit for track and field.

Brandon Outlaw, Moorestown

Outlaw made his mark on the football field and the track. He was a second-team all-South Jersey selection as a wide receiver with nine touchdown catches. In track, Outlaw was the best 400-meter runner in the state, winning the Meet of Champions in 47.05 seconds. He also ran 46.82 at the Group 3 sectional meet, the fifth-fastest time in South Jersey history. He is a Virginia recruit for track.

Mike Taulane, Collingswood

Taulane was a standout on the football field and the wrestling mat for the Panthers. He was a first-team, all-South Jersey linebacker in football, making 17 tackles in a 12-8 victory over previously undefeated Cinnaminson. In wrestling, Taulane finished 40-2 at 195 pounds, taking second place in the state tournament.

Martin Booker Jr., Pennsauken

Booker was a longtime track star who emerged as a big-time football player as a senior. He was a first-team, all-South Jersey running back. He ran for 376 yards and eight touchdowns in a 69-56 loss to Freehold Boro in the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs. He carried 44 times for 241 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over rival Camden. In track, Booker won four medals at the Meet of Champions, winning the 200 meters in 21.57 seconds. He is a Hampton University recruit for track.

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