If Taylor Heinicke were two inches taller, he might be in Greenville, N.C. or Tampa, Fla., playing for the East Carolina or South Florida.
Instead, because the former Collins Hill quarter was 6-feet tall, he is in Norfolk, Va., playing for Old Dominion.
The move has worked out for both as the Monarchs (7-1) prepare to take on Georgia State (1-8) on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Heinicke has put up video game-like numbers this year for No. 6 ODU, highlighted by the 791 yards and six touchdowns he scored earlier this year against New Hampshire, a game in which he broke numerous NCAA records for passing and total offense. For the season, he’s passed for 24 touchdowns and is the No. 1 reason (though he would say otherwise) that the Monarchs lead the FCS in scoring offense (44.6 points per game) and total offense (565.5 yards per game).
To put it into perspective, Heinicke has more yards than Georgia State’s entire team (3,159 to 2,885).
“I’m not trying to do too much,” he said. “Coach has done a good job of molding me into the quarterback they want me to be.”
So how did he end up at Old Dominion, and not an ACC or SEC school, none of whom were very interested, or East Carolina or South Florida, who were interested but wouldn’t make an offer? Or even Georgia State, less than an hour down I-85 from Collins Hill’s Suwanee campus?
Heinicke did everything he could to attract recruiters. He traveled all over the south doing the summer camp circuit. He performed well.
But the big colleges didn’t want him because he was 6-0 and played in a pro-style offense his junior year that didn’t produce eye-popping stats. It didn’t matter that he threw for more than 4,200 yards with 44 touchdowns his senior year after Collins Hill changed to a spread offense to take advantage of Heinicke’s ability, or that he was named the player of the year in the state by numerous organizations.
He was a few inches too short.
“He’s the best I ever coached. I knew it,” Collins Hill coach Kevin Reach said. “When they came in I was selling him hard.”
Georgia State, not one of the big boys, didn’t need him because they thought they were stocked with four quarterbacks. By the time they became interested, ODU coach Bobby Wilder has practically sealed the deal.
But even that Heinicke ended up in Hampton Roads involved a bit of luck.
Reach sent film of Heinicke to Old Dominion but didn’t hear back. By luck, Collins Hill’s strength coach, who happened to be carrying film of Heinicke, ran into an ODU vice president. The film got to Wilder, who soon called.
Finally, an offer.
“They said he was similar to the quarterback they had,” Reach said. “They weren’t worried about size and things like that.”
Heinicke took over the offense in the second half of last year’s game against Massachusetts on Oct 1. Already used to the spread offense, Heinicke took off. He finished with 2,385 yards, 25 touchdowns and one interception, leading the Monarchs to the second round of the FCS playoffs.
“Anytime somebody calls and asks ‘Do you believe the type of freshman year he had?’ I say, ‘Yes. Nothing he does surprises me,’ “ Reach said.
Heinicke, who is now listed at 6-1, picked right up his sophomore year, making national headlines with his game against New Hampshire. The Monarchs trailed 40-24 at halftime before Heinicke rallied them to a 64-61 victory. He finished with 730 passing yards (on 79 attempts) and 61 rushing yards to set a new Division I record for total offense. He set the Division I passing yards record but fell one yard short of tying the all-divisions passing mark.
When it was over, he had more than 150 messages of congratulations.
Heinicke said it has been difficult to not try to replicate that success in subsequent games, but the coaching staff has done a good job of keeping him focused.
“As long as we win that’s all that matters,” he said.
Saturday will be a rematch between Heinicke and Georgia State quarterback Ben McLane. Brookwood, led by McLane, knocked off Collins Hill in the semifinals of the playoffs in both players’ senior years. This will be the first time Heinicke will actually play in the Dome. He said as many as 85 family and friends, including Reach, will be at the game.
As for those coaches who passed on Heinicke, when they return to Collins Hill to recruit they are quick to say “You told us.”
Reach just smiles.
The quarterback that was supposedly too short is winning.
“That motivates me to prove people wrong,” Heinicke said. “My whole life I’ve had people tell me that you are too small.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu