UM’s Taylor gets unique car deal, looks to break out as sophomore

First Round Management agent JR Bryant (from left), Ocean Mazda Doral general manager Fernando Rodriguez, Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Leonard Taylor and First Round Management agent Malki Kawa.

First Round Management agent JR Bryant (from left), Ocean Mazda Doral general manager Fernando Rodriguez, Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Leonard Taylor and First Round Management agent Malki Kawa.

Just a couple of years ago, the sight of a college football player driving a $ 40,000 car would trigger alarm bells for athletic department compliance directors and raise eyebrows for everybody else.

No longer.

Last week, uber-talented Miami Hurricanes sophomore defensive tackle Leonard Taylor became the first college football player in Florida to secure free use of a vehicle for the entire length of his college career.

The deal – perfectly legal under the NCAA’s new NIL rules – was arranged by First Round Management certified football agents / NIL agents Malki Kawa, Peter Ariz and JR Bryant and Ocean Mazda Doral general manager Fernando Rodriguez.

“It means a lot to me because I needed a car and Malki came through,” Taylor said, noting that use of a vehicle ranks atop any list of benefits that college football players are now permitted to receive.

Taylor got to pick the car himself: a 2021 electric blue Dodger Charger.

“They’re going to customize the interior as well, put in Leonard’s logo and initials and whatever color interior he wants,” Kawa said.

Taylor stands poised to become one of UM’s breakout stars. Despite playing only 200 defensive snaps as a freshman, he had 9.5 tackles for loss, and Pro Football Focus rated him among the top third of all FBS defensive tackles last season (177th of 673).

“I want to be the best d-tackle in college football and I’m going to work to be that,” said Taylor, who admires and studies Los Angeles Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald. “As long as I keep pushing for it, I can be anything I want.”

One change from his first season: He said he’s studying the playbook more.

“I know I didn’t know the plays so there was nothing I could do but focus in and lock in,” he said. “I’ve got to win my spot on the field. [New defensive line coach Joe Salave’a] is good people. He tells me if I stay in the books, I can play in the league [NFL] for years. “

Taylor is looking forward to learning from Hall of Famer and Dolphins legend Jason Taylor, a UM analyst who will be working with defensive linemen.

The unique car deal, one of only a handful in college football, came about when Kawa – after landing Taylor as an NIL client – reached out to Rodriguez, whom Kawa has known since they were grade-school students.

“It’s a first,” Kawa said of a college football player in Florida getting a free car, “but it’s a testament to what Miami is building, and the type of player Leonard is. This isn’t happening for zero-star players.

“He has the ability to become the best defensive tackle to ever come out of the University of Miami if he applies himself and pushes forward. We saw flashes as a freshman. As a sophomore, he’ll take the next steps. And the new coaching staff and new strength and conditioning staff and all the things Miami is doing different will all benefit him. He could become a force where we could be looking at a top 10 pick when the time comes for him as a junior. ”

So what’s required of Taylor as part of the car deal?

“He will do promotions,” Kawa said. “Every month, he will be responsible to do social media posts, Instagram, Twitter. There will be a couple of autograph signings at the dealership he will do as part of this deal. It’s a multiyear deal. We felt Leonard was the right guy. Leonard is going to have this car throughout his college career. “

Doral Ocean Mazda GM Rodriguez, a former baseball player at Miami Columbus and a member of the school’s Hall of Fame, didn’t hesitate about giving out a free car, even though “there’s low inventory and it took us a while to get this car . “

The fact that former Miami Columbus standout Mario Cristobal “is back in town, that’s a big deal,” Rodriguez said. “When Malki talked about doing this first NIL deal, I thought it was great idea. Leonard being a Miami Palmetto kid, homegrown kid, it’s an honor. We want to support the guys in the local community. “

Now that he has his free wheels, Taylor will focus on becoming what everyone believes he can be.

He knows this much: The program is going to be different with Cristobal in charge.

“He’s real disciplined, means business,” Taylor said. “The program has changed since he’s been there. Our conditioning is crazy, different from last year. It’s stricter discipline. ”

Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.

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