Former University of Akron star Jason Taylor enshrined into Pro Football Hall of Fame

CANTON, Ohio — It took 20 years to travel a journey of 20 miles, but former University of Akron standout Jason Taylor’s football career came full circle on Saturday night.

As a member of the Class of 2017, Taylor was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday night, and his bronze bust joins more than 300 others forever housed in the hallowed halls of Canton, Ohio.

“I honestly can’t believe I’m here,” Taylor said in his enshrinement speech. “In 1992, I was at The University of Akron, just 20 miles north of here.

“Twenty miles away, but it really could’ve been a million. Back then, I couldn’t fathom that over the course of the next two decades, step by step, I’d travel those 20 miles to be on this stage, wearing this jacket. Twenty years to travel 20 miles, but it was worth every bit of it.”

Taylor spent 15 seasons in the National Football League, including 13 with the Miami Dolphins, who selected him in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft. Also, Taylor played for Washington (2008) and the New York Jets (2010).

Over 233 career games, Taylor registered 139.5 sacks, collected three safeties and returned three of his eight interceptions for touchdowns.

Taylor registered double-digit sack totals in six seasons (2000, 2002-2003, 2005-2007), including a career-high and NFL-best 18.5 in 2002 and matched a league record with 29 fumbles recovered. Taylor returned six of those recoveries for touchdowns, which is the most in NFL history.

“I was so focused on the destination the entire time, I didn’t enjoy the ride enough,” Taylor said. “I wish I could go back and savor every film session, every pregame meal with my teammates, every locker-room prank, every postgame speech, every fan that waited outside the stadium for hours to see you or wave at you.

“I challenge each and every one of you today to enjoy your journey, wherever it is, wherever it takes you. Appreciate those around you and articulate that appreciation. Embrace your successes and your failures and understand that each moment is a unique step on your path that you can never, ever get back.”

Taylor was selected to play in the Pro Bowl six times, was a first-team All Pro on three occasions, the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the 2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner and a member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s.

Taylor is the third member of the 1997 NFL Draft class to earn enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Offensive linemen Walter Jones and Orlando Pace earned their inductions in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

Pace (No. 1 overall/St. Louis Rams) and Jones (No. 6/Seattle Seahawks) were first-round selections.

Taylor was enshrined as a part of the 2017 class, which included kicker Morten Andersen, running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis, safety Kenny Easley, quarterback Kurt Warner and Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.

“Ease is a greater threat to growth than hardship,” Taylor said. “I repeat, ease is a greater threat to growth than hardship, so keep moving, keep growing, learning, loving. I couldn’t have made it these 20 miles over 20 years if I didn’t have you at my back, at my side and out in front.

“My football career forever ends right here tonight. My gratitude is eternal.”

© 2017 WKYC-TV