CHANNEL 2 SPORTS ZONE FRIDAY GAME OF THE WEEK: COLLINS HILL AT BROOKWOOD
Like anyone else, Taylor Heinecke could not have been sure what coach Billy Wells leaving Collins Hill High School after last season would mean for his football future. He, like the entire Eagles program, had enjoyed both personal and team success under the leadership of Wells, who left to coach at Lanier.
Ultimately, here’s what it meant: The Eagles are still playing in the season’s 14th week and Heinieke has established virtually every Gwinnett County passing record.
The switch from Wells to coach Kevin Reach meant a switch from an I-based offense to a pass-happy spread. And for Heinecke, that has meant 3,903 yards passing and 43 touchdown with just nine interceptions.
“Coach told me I’d have big numbers,” said Heinecke, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior. “But if you told me I’d have the numbers I do, there’s no way I would’ve believed it.”
Collins Hill (10-3) takes on No. 3-ranked Brookwood (12-1) in the Class AAAAA semifinals tonight at Brookwood Community Stadium. Should the Eagles have their typical offensive game and advance to the state championship game, Heinecke could be in position to break the state’s all-time passing record, set just last year by Lassiter’s Hutson Mason.
The 7:30 p.m. game is being televised as the “Channel 2 Sports Zone Friday Game of the Week.” It can be seen live on Comcast Channel 248 and Charter 126. A replay will be shown at 1 a.m. on WSB Ch. 2.
It’s not like Reach was coming in from Mars. Reach was an in-house hire and served as Wells’ offensive coordinator as the Eagles flourished for the last several seasons out of the I-formation. But Reach knew when tailback Charles Perkins, who rushed for more than 3,000 yards the last two seasons, left for Georgia Tech, he would have to re-think the way Collins Hill was advancing the football.
One of Reach’s first moves to that end was to hire offensive coordinator Sean Calhoun from Berrien. Calhoun is a former Valdosta State offensive coach and spread guru and Reach wanted to bring him to Lawrenceville to install the offense.
“We knew Taylor was an excellent passer and we had a lot of athletes we needed to get the ball to,” Reach said. “I knew Coach Calhoun from some clinics we used to do and Valdosta. It wasn’t easy but we figured out a way to get him up here.”
That proved to be a life-changing move for Heinecke, who had passed for 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns out of the Eagles’ proo-style set. But it wouldn’t be an easy transition. To effectively run the spread a quarterback not only must have a good arm but also a sharp eye for reading defenses. It wasn’t something he’d been required to do before.
“I knew I could throw the ball,” he said. “The whole reading defenses part is what I wasn’t sure about. Coach Calhoun really helped me with that. Mainly we just did a whole lot of film work. I think that’s probably made the biggest difference. Now I feel like I know what I’m looking for out there.”
It would appear so. Heinecke has had some monster games. The one that will probably be talked about for years around Collins Hill occurred last week in a 31-28 upset of No. 2-ranked Lowndes. He led the Eagles on a 95-yard scoring drive to tie the game late, then scored the winning touchdown on a 12-yard reception with three minutes to play.
For the game, Heinecke finished with 388 yards on 34-of-55 passing and three touchdowns.
Heineke’s development has likewise benefited a Collins Hill roster full of playmakers. Led by wide receivers Zay Howard (1,054 yards), Nick England (807) and Jeffrey Glover (762), the Eagles feature seven players with more than 242 yards receiving. Wideouts have accounted for 46 touchdowns.
“Our O-line has done a great job of protecting me and we have some big play-makers at wide receiver,” Heinecke said. “We all work hard at practice every day. None of us have any down time. It’s definitely a team accomplishment.”
We’ll find out tonight if Collins Hill will live to play another day. If so, Heinecke might have a chance to become the state’s all-time passing leader. He needs 588 to surpass Mason’s 4,560 last season.
As to whether Heineke will continue to play past this season, that question was answered earlier this week when he landed his first scholarship offer from Old Dominion. Richmond has been hanging around a lot, too. East Carolina, Western Kentucky and South Florida has sent inquiries.
“The recruiting process has definitely picked up for me the past week or so,” Heineke said. “Coach said to just be patient. He said to keep playing and winning games and recruiting will take care of itself.”
Heineke is on a path remarkably similar to Mason, who had very few offers until late in his senior season. Like Mason, Heineke competed in the TV series “The Ride” this summer. That show takes eight “under-the-radar” quarterback prospects and has them compete for judges for the right to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 7.
Heineke was voted out in the first episode, which ran on MTV2 on Nov. 13. But got to work with the panel of expert coaches and now he’s the only contestant still playing.
“It definitely helped,” Heineke said. “That took place back in the summer and it was a great experience being around all those cameras and working with all those coaches. I definitely think it helped a lot with reading defenses and learning the proper mechanics to be a good quarterback.”
Heineke will be playing in front of cameras again tonight. A year ago, who would’ve guessed it?