Heading That Way

Jenkins County hasn't seen talent like this in nearly two decades--Jonathan Taylor and James DeLoach couldn't be more proud of where they're going...and where they're from.

MILEN - If you're passing through Jenkins County on an empty stomach your options are limited.

There's a Subway and a couple of fast food stops. That's about it. Currently, there are almost more future college football players in the town than places to eat, which is truly remarkable for such a modest habitat.

Jenkins is home to Jonathan Taylor and James Deloach—a defensive package deal currently committed to Georgia.

On a warm afternoon in August, the duo are laughing and killing time in the weight room after a morning practice.

"There ain't too much to do here," proclaims DeLoach.

With just over 8,000 people residing in Jenkins, Taylor and DeLoach have become local celebrities. They're the first athletes from the area to achieve such high standing since James Bostic led the SEC in rushing at Auburn in 1993.

"It's been brand new for me and really everybody here in little old Jenkins County," said defensive line coach Chuck Sanders. "It's just something that we've never dealt with."

It's hard to imagine two players from Jenkins reaching elite stature at the same time. Taylor moved in from Screven in fifth grade. DeLoach was already in Milan, having moved from Gadsden, Ala., a few years earlier.

The two quickly became best friends.

Jonathan Taylor during a photo shoot with Dawg post. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

"I first saw them in middle school," Sanders recalls. "I really had high hopes that Jonathan could be something great, but James has really developed himself into a ball player also."

Had both young men not ended up in Jenkins together, there's a good chance neither would have developed into the players they are today. They go against each other in nearly every drill because they're both so much bigger than everybody else on the team.

Taylor is a 6-4, 295 pound nose tackle. He's extremely close to his mother, but makes no mention of his father. If there is a void there, Sanders has done a good job filling in when needed.

He says he would let Taylor live with him if that's what needed to be done.

DeLoach describes himself as "more laid back" and plays defensive end/linebacker while measuring 6-3, 260 pounds.

"They're both clowns at times, but they know how to get serious on the field when the time comes," Sanders said. "Honestly, at a little school like this, it's once in a lifetime. Now, we've had good athletes that have come through. But usually they don't develop into a D-1 athlete or prospect with all the tools."

The recruiting attention started in the summer of 2010. The two began travelling to camps across the South and quickly generated a buzz. Taylor climbed the rankings, solidifying himself as a top five player in the state. DeLoach was tabbed a 3-star player.

The offers started piling up for the duo, and it became obvious the two were going to play together in college.

"Before all this recruiting started we always told each other that we were going to go to the same school," Taylor said. "We probably would have figured it out one way or the other. We would have decided which one best fit us and we pretty much would have made our decisions."

For the locals in Jenkins, the recruiting spotlight sparked curiosity. Name any school in the South—the Jenkins County boys had the opportunity to play anywhere they wanted.

"It was huge. It really was huge," Sanders said. "A lot of people have enjoyed it. When some of the big time coaches have come down—Richt, Saban, Dooley—a lot of people have come in just to see them. You see them on TV, but it's a lot different meeting them in person."

James DeLoach during a photo shoot with Dawg post. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

Despite the oohs and ahhs over the high profile coaches passing through, the town has always been faithful to one program in particular.

"Everybody's car tag has a G on it," DeLoach said. "They love the Dogs here."

And for a couple of reasons, Georgia stood out to Taylor and DeLoach too.

"Georgia, they kind of did things different," Taylor said. "Most schools kinda bring their assistant coach to talk to you. At Georgia, the head coach offered me. Mark Richt took me in his office and said he was offering me a scholarship. So it meant a lot more."

"I love Athens," DeLoach said. "Every time I go up there, it's like family. It's home away from home. Everybody treats you good. Everybody treats you the same, especially the players. We already have a good relationship with those guys."

With those feelings in mind, Taylor and DeLoach committed to Richt in June on the same day.

"We were about an hour apart from each other," DeLoach said of making the call to Richt.

"It just came down to a point where a bunch of colleges were wanting you, and you just had to a make a decision," Taylor said. "I wanted to be close to home, where I could get playing time and people could watch me play."

And so another chapter was written in the most successful story stemming from Jenkins County in nearly two decades.

But the tale is not over yet. The two still have a senior season to play.

"There's going to be, as they call it, bulletin board material," Sanders said. "You've got two Georgia commitments coming at you. What are you going to do with them? Are they going to run over you or are you going to stop them?"

And colleges haven't backed off yet.

"They've all acknowledged that we had committed, but they still want us to come to their schools and watch practices and stuff like that," DeLoach said.

With their mind already set on Athens for the next four or five years, the biggest decision of the day during this warm afternoon in August is choosing a place to grab lunch. They settle on Dairy Queen over Popeye's.

With their mind made up, the two, joined by Sanders, head that way.

James DeLoach with Jonathon Taylor during a photo shoot with Dawg post. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

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