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Florida's Jacobs creating his own legacy

Former University of Florida wide receiver Taylor Jacobs looks to be the next in a long list of Gators pass catchers to go to the next level.

It's a long and impressive list; one that includes the likes of Cris Collinsworth, Nat Moore and Ricky Nattiel.

Athough the NFL Draft is still a month away, it's probably a safe bet to add Taylor Jacobs to that list.
A total of 24 former University of Florida wide receivers have played in the NFL, including seven in each of the last three seasons. However, there's one stigma they can't seem to shake -- Gator receivers don't live up to the hype in the NFL.

Enter Jacobs. The 6-foot, 205-pound speedster has impressed scouts, coaches and draft experts alike. He is projected as high as the third-best receiver in the draft, a position Florida players haven't enjoyed since Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony were two of the top 16 picks in 1997.

"I look at it this way ... for all these UF receivers to be in the league, that says something in the first place," Jacobs said. "People can say we're good or we're not so good, but you have look at the number of receivers we have and have had in the NFL.

"People can say what they want to say, but as much as I want to be like Ike or Travis (Taylor), or whomever I looked up to in the past, I'm not them. I'm different. I'm Taylor Jacobs and that's all I'm glad to be. I'm different, and one day I hope to get a chance to show that."

Jacobs made his mark at Florida, which is no small task at a school that holds its football players to the highest standards. He was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick this past season, leading the conference with 71 catches for 1,088 yards. He accomplished all this despite missing two games with a knee injury. His 71 grabs rank third for a single season in school history, surpassing Collinsworth.

Jacobs was also a track star, earning All-America honors in the 200 meters. That must mean he's fast. It also means he is a very valuable prospect.

Growing up just outside Tallahassee, Fla., Jacobs chose the Gators over the hometown Florida State Seminoles. After playing quarterback for most of his high school career, he made the switch to wide receiver. Florida State didn't offer him a scholarship, but Florida did.

It ended up working out very well for both sides. Jacobs isn't the first Gator to hail from Tallahassee, but he's one that could make Bobby Bowden wish there had been another scholarship available in his receiving corps at the time.

Jacobs could have been buried on the Gators' depth chart entering the 1999 season. The team already had Reche Caldwell and Darrell Jackson on the roster, and Jabar Gaffney and Elgin Hicks were incoming freshmen at the same time. True, Hicks did not become a star at Florida -- he transferred before the start of the season -- but the other three were the big men on campus.

Still, Jacobs saw action in 10 games and posted seven receptions for 99 yards, not too shabby for a fourth receiver. Then again, this was Steve Spurrier and Florida, known for a high-flying, pass-happy offensive.

"I didn't know how to compete on the same level with the guys who were already here," Jacobs said. "But I am who I am. They are players just like I am, but I just had to work a little harder."

Following Jackson's departure after the 1999 season, Jacobs was promoted to the No. 3 receiver position in 2000, a season in which he made 17 receptions and scored his first collegiate touchdown -- modest numbers that paled in comparison to what followed in 2001. That year, he caught 38 passes from the gun-slinging Rex Grossman and tallied seven scores.

And he was still just the team's third receiver.
"I think it was phenomenal because we went out there and just caught touchdowns," said Jacobs. "It is kind of crazy to say it now, but sometimes we were on the field saying to each other, 'It's my turn to catch this touchdown. It's my turn.' Nobody could be double-covered. If someone was, then there was a weak spot in the defense somewhere else. We were all above-average receivers and we could take care of one (defensive back). It was a whole lot of fun."

Then the fun ended. Both Caldwell and Gaffney left school early to pursue careers in the NFL, as well as coach Steve Spurrier. Both players were second-round picks. Their combined total in the NFL this past season was 16 starts, 63 receptions, 691 yards and four touchdowns. Those are decent numbers, but are the kind Jacobs hopes to accomplish by himself as a possible first-round pick.

Due to his promotion as the go-to guy, Jacobs' senior campaign was his best. His season got off to a bang. On the first offensive play of the season against Alabama-Birmingham, Grossman went up top and found Jacobs for a 59-yard reception. For a player whose previous career high was just over 100 yards, he had 170 by halftime on his way to a school-record 246 yards.

Eleven games, 71 catches, 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns later, Jacobs finished his UF career eighth in receptions, ninth in yardage and 14th in touchdowns. Just remember that there were 24 other Florida receivers in the NFL that came before him, some of whom were now bumped down the list.

"When I started making things happened, I knew I was a part of this. I was just trying to get my little piece of the pie," he said.

Even with his high rating, Jacobs' projected draft position seems to be all over the radar screen. Mock draft experts have him going anywhere from the top 10 to late in the second round. However, it all seems to average out to be a late first-round pick. If that is so, then the AFC-champion Raiders may scoop him up. Oakland already has a couple of established receivers in Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Not a bad legacy to be drafted into, considering Rice is one of Jacobs' childhood idols.

Despite what football has brought to Jacobs and where he can go from here, the most important legacy is the one in the Jacobs family. His younger brother, Evan, has Down syndrome. The elder Jacobs has served not only as a brother, but also a provider in Evan's life. And in return, Evan can't get enough of Taylor. Each time his older brother was on the field and television, Evan would cheer at the top of lungs. It appears Taylor already has a No. 1 fan before he even steps foot in the NFL.

"My brother can do a lot of things by himself," Jacobs said. "We've been an inspiration for each other. He shows additional things that you can't find in a regular person, regardless how much they try to see. He's a great person and we learn a lot from each other."

Since Jacobs already knows about the ecstasy of football and the hardships of life, taking the next step to the NFL will be no big deal. He has already done enough to be considered a success.

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