COCOA, Fla. – Former Cocoa High football coach John Wilkinson remembers his first meeting with each of his former Tigers likely to be selected this weekend in the NFL Draft, but the first time he saw Jawaan Taylor stood out.
Now the head coach at New Smyrna Beach, Wilkinson recalled seeing Taylor in the Kennedy Middle School cafeteria, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
"I guess he was in eighth grade," Wilkinson said. "I remember being in the lunch room and seeing him come in, and he was so big. He had to be 300 pounds and 6-2 or 6-3."
Thursday night, Wilkinson will be at Taylor's table in downtown Nashville when the NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. Taylor, the former Florida Gators and Cocoa Tigers offensive tackle, measured at 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds at the recent NFL Combine.
He is now the consensus No. 1 offensive tackle available according to draft analysts, and he was one of a couple dozen college players invited to be on site as selections are announced.
Experts have predicted Taylor will go in the top 10, with the consensus expecting the Jacksonville Jaguars to take him at the seventh pick of the first round. Former Astronaut High and UF player Wilber Marshall, drafted 11th overall by the Chicago Bears in 1984, is the highest draft pick among Brevard high school products.
The next two locals expected to come off the draft board play the same position as the area's last NFL pick, former Holy Trinity and Gators defensive back Marcus Maye, taken in the second round by the Jets in 2017, 39th overall.
Gators safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who also played for Wilkinson at Cocoa and announced after last season he would enter the draft following his junior year of college, appears likely to be taken anywhere from the late first round to the third. Many experts list him as a high second-rounder.
"A couple of months ago, a year ago, I knew in the back of my mind this could happen," Gardner-Johnson's mom, Delatron Johnson, said Tuesday. "Now, the knowing is starting to turn into emotions. I feel like a pregnant woman. My emotions are all over the place."
The draft starts at 7 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday. Following the first two Cocoa grads, fellow alum Jamel Dean, who played college ball at Auburn, should be drafted as well. If they aren't drafted, former Tigers Freddie Booth-Lloyd, Jamel Jackson and James Folston Jr. could find themselves in NFL camps as free agents.
The draft will be broadcast live on the NFL Network, ABC and ESPN.
Longtime Brevard County football coach Mike Vogt, Taylor's offensive line coach as a ninth-grader and senior, said when Florida Gators coaches first watched film of the offensive line prospect, they thought the video was set on a fast speed.
"He was driven his senior year," Vogt recalled. "Halfway through that year, he just started dominating."
Cocoa to Auburn to NFL: Jamel Dean declares for NFL draft
Both Gardner-Johnson and Dean graduated in December, Dean in 2014 with a 3.8 GPA, a year ahead of his former teammate. Former principal Stephanie Soliven, now an assistant superintendent for Brevard Schools, recalled the days when a younger Dean thought his future was in another field.
"He was always track. That was going to be his sport. He was tall and lanky with these big glasses. That is the picture that I have in my mind. To see him now, he's obviously not lanky and wearing big glasses."
Dean, measured at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds at the NFL Combine, was a draft question mark in the minds of many NFL analysts because of a history of knee problems. But he ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash of any defensive back, a 4.30, at the NFL Combine.
Gardner-Johnson, who ran a 4.48, typically has been rated higher, and he will host a Thursday night draft party for family and friends at the Rockledge Youth Football Field on Cogswell Street.
Soliven's top memory of him as a ninth-grader was a mix of determination of humility.
"He ran everywhere and talked to everybody, exactly how you see him today, doing everything 100 percent. He came in knowing what he wanted, but I remember how humble he was about the older players and how much he respected them."