Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly is Racing to Success
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Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly is a made man.
The 22-year-old redshirt junior can no longer hide in obscurity after passing for 3,040 yards, 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season.
He now has 13 starts and a few school records, including a 67.1 passing completion percentage.
Yet despite such a fantastic debut, Kelly seems unfazed.
"I'm quiet," he said. "I'm not very outgoing."
The studious Kelly does have a wild hair that makes a lot of noise. He drag races in the offseason to "get that adrenaline rush." Last year, Kelly "posted the fourth-fastest time (129.83 mph) in the Sport Compact Qualifiers at a track near his hometown," according to AzCentral.com.
So much for flying under the radar.
The Pac-12 Network filmed Kelly racing at Firebird Raceway in Boise, Idaho. Racing red BMWs, Nissans and Toyotas with the Sun Devil logo and his jersey No. 10 on his car, Kelly sticks out.
"Racing was a little hobby of mine," he says. "Do something new and go fast."
That little hobby did not escape the notice of new Sun Devil head coach, Todd Graham, and offensive coordinator, Mike Norvell, last year.
"They were like, 'hey man, stop racing,'" Kelly recalled from a coach's text.
"It looks a lot more dangerous than what it really it is," he added. "I'm not doing it too much...I'm only doing once a year now. I'm going to be settling down as my career grows. Once I'm done with football and whatever else, I'm just going to start that hobby back up again."
He is not a daredevil. "I don't like roller coasters," he candidly admitted. "I like having control. Me driving a car, I like. But if I'm in the passenger's seat with someone driving like that, I wouldn't trust him."
Perhaps that is why he is thriving so well at Arizona State, a program that was going in the wrong direction when head coach Dennis Erickson was dismissed before the 2012 season. Kelly likes being in control. He is a field general. But Tempe's army was not running smoothly in 2011.
"Coach Dennis Erickson was a great coach and still is a great coach but he would kind of let a few little details [go] by," Kelly said.
"Coach Graham is on that. Absolutely no drugs in his program...no earrings, no hats in the building. It's just the little things. Wearing the same dress code during lifting...paying more attention to the little things and our guys have adapted to that very quickly and are doing a great job of it."
Not everyone adapted to the change. From the time Graham arrived in Tempe to early May last year, four players were dismissed from the team. The iron fist was laid down on a program in need of more discipline on and off the field.
Graham explained his stance on drugs to me in a FOXSports interview last year:
It's an ongoing problem, probably more prevalent than people think. I'll give kids a second chance, but I'm not giving them a third.
We drug test every player in our program every two months. I probably drug test more than anybody else. We choose to do that—I choose to do that.
Graham also chose to tap the potential in the kid from Eagle, Idaho who is an exceptional student-athlete and role model. As an example, he carries a 3.3 GPA.
Kelly rose out of nowhere after spring camp last year. Phil Steele's 2012 preseason magazine listed Kelly behind Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici on the quarterback depth chart. The 6' 2", 200-pound quarterback had only thrown four passes in his collegiate career.
"Coming out of spring I was third on the depth chart," Kelly said. He calls the summer of 2012 "the biggest summer of my life."
"I watched a ton of film, worked on my feet, arm strength, just got to know the guys. Just outwork everybody. It paid off in fall camp and that's when I won the job and just took off from there."
Kelly has always played quarterback, ever since he was nine years old. But getting noticed in a town in Idaho, with a population of around 20,000, is difficult.
"We have a lot of athletes in Idaho, in Boise," he said. "They just don't get the attention, they don't have the resources to get their name out. Coaches aren't going to go there, especially high-profile programs. They would rather waste their time going to California or Florida or Texas."
Kelly has some advice.
"For the kids who live in small towns like that, go to camps and get your name out. That's what I did. I had coaches who I was fortunate enough to have, who know a few people that got my name out, and I went to camps and did really well. Never stop the dream."
Kelly is grateful for the mentoring he received from Paul Peterson, his coach at Eagle High School, and Scott Criner, the school's then-offensive coordinator. Criner is now the head coach at Idaho's Rocky Mountain High School.
Kelly may even pay it forward.
Although he would like to go on to the pros, if that does not work out, he has his life planned out.
His degree in educational studies offers him the opportunity "to coach later on, work with kids, kind of give back to the community," he explained.
"I'm going to try and get my master's [degree] because I graduate early. I graduate in December. And then I'll have a year and a half left on my scholarship to get my master's—I want to get some business background in it. You only have four years at the college level so you have to make the best of it."
Kelly said the happiest day of his life was when he graduated high school and "got my scholarship to get my education paid for and get the opportunity to play the game I love."
This year may eclipse that. He and the team's goal is "to get to the Rose Bowl [game] or that national championship," he said firmly.
"We have the schedule to get to the national championship. We have one of the hardest, toughest schedules anyone has this season."
After opening with Sacramento State, Arizona State's next four games are not for the faint of heart: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas.
"I want to lead Arizona State to its first national championship," Kelly said. "Once that happens, that's gonna help this program a lot and will take us to the next step to those elite colleges that are doing that right now."
Pac-12 Network analyst Rick Neuheisel said Kelly has what it takes, according to Pros2Preps.com.
“I think Taylor Kelly is going to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country,” Neuheisel told Brad Cesmat on a ‘Big Guy on Sports’ radio interview.
And Arizona State may have another year of Kelly after this season. He used the word "definitely" when asked if he would come back for another year. For a program that seemingly has had an unsettled quarterback situation every spring, that is goods news.
With mid-4.5 40-yard dash speed, a lively arm and a need for speed, Kelly's message is clear.
Catch me if you can.
Kelly's racing videos can be viewed here.
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