In August of this year, Old Dominion football coach Bobby Wilder told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper he was “confident they hit” on freshman QB recruit Taylor Heinicke from Georgia.
Impressive from the very start of training camp, the plan was to redshirt Heinicke and let senior QB Thomas DeMarco finish as the starter in 2011.
Things change, and for ODU it worked out perfectly.
One of the Norfolk area’s top newspapers, the Virginian-Pilot, originally touched on the plight of the Monarch’s young star quarterback, so this story should be familiar to those in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The CAAZone decided to revisit and expand on the story to; help football recruits understand the process, keep CAA fans informed, show how persistence and hard work can pay off in the inexact science of college recruiting, and how much the little things mean to a recruit when selecting a school.
Let’s travel back in time a few years and review the recruiting history behind Taylor Heinicke’s path to ODU. It is a story worth telling in detail.
Heinicke was the quarterback of Collins Hills High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia. One of the larger schools in the state, Collins Hills competed in the 5A division and against some of the best competition you’ll find at the high school level in the country.
As a junior Heinicke played well but senior running back Charles Perkins garnished much of the attention. The future Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket ran over, through, and past opponents.
The scouts, who came out to see Perkins, caught a glimpse of the junior QB Heinicke and started asking questions.
Georgia and Vanderbilt put Heinicke on their recruiting board, but the one thing that concerned the larger programs was his size.
At 6’1” and 190 pounds, Heinicke did not meet the prototypical measurements scouts at BCS schools typically target.
During his junior season Heinicke suffered a shoulder injury and while he was examined the doctor noticed the growth plate had not completely closed.
In a way that was good news for Taylor and his family, it meant he still had some growing time left.
Still not receiving any serious considerations from the larger college football programs, it was time for the Heinicke’s to do their own promoting.
“Taylor’s father (Brett) and HS coach Kevin Reach promoted Taylor any way they could,” Mike Dodsworth (Taylor’s stepfather) said.
Every weekend during the summer he would attend college football camps and visited schools. He went to NC State, North Carolina, East Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke, and South Florida. No one showed an interest following the camps.
Heinicke even participated in a MTV2 reality show called “The Ride” featuring undersized or unheralded quarterbacks who would compete against each other for a scholarship. He lost the competition and nothing came from it.
“It was very disappointing. Everyone was doing everything they could for him and the interest was minimal,” Dodsworth explained.
Heinicke’s father Brett did what he could by sending video tapes of his son’s games to schools, but the phone rarely rang. Perkins was the central point of the offense and despite producing respectable statistics as a junior it wasn’t enough to turn heads.
Now into the start of his senior season at Collins Hills, Taylor Heinicke was producing phenomenal numbers each and every week.
It was during this time early in the fall of 2010 that Heinicke’s personal trainer, Earl Williams, had chance meeting that would change his recruitment and likely impact Old Dominion football for the next four years.
Williams was on airport shuttle when he started making small talk with an individual who enjoyed his company. The two spoke for a short while and Williams soon found out he was talking to ODU Vice President Alonzo Brandon.
They discussed the ODU football program and Brandon’s role as the individual who oversees the Athletic Foundation – a group that raised the funds to re-institute football at the Norfolk school.
Williams provided Brandon with information on Heinicke, and Brandon passed them on to Coach Wilder and his staff.
“I’m always looking to help the football program whenever I can. He (Earl Williams) raved about this quarterback prospect he trained in Georgia,” Brandon explained.
“I gave the information to the coaching staff, but nothing amounted from it as they felt a kid with this type of potential from Georgia wouldn’t look at new program in Virginia just starting out.”
Heinicke, now with the offense specifically designed around his abilities, would go on to complete his senior season with over 4,200 yards passing and 44 touchdown passes. His name started popping up on everyone’s recruiting radar.
Richmond, Buffalo, and Eastern Michigan all expressed interest and wanted Heinicke to visit their schools.
After breaking a number of state records, the local schools never pursued him. Georgia typically looks for a bigger/stronger quarterback to take the pounding of an SEC schedule and Georgia Tech runs an option offense.
But Brett Heinicke (Taylor’s father) wouldn’t give up on the ODU chance meeting Williams had with Brandon, and reconnected with the coaching staff.
“Taylor’s father came back to us,” Brandon said.
With a second connection the ODU staff new there was truly an interest there and watched the game clips of Heincke.
Floored by the game footage, Coach Wilder invited Taylor to come to ODU for a visit.
“I immediately loved the campus and the coaches I met at ODU,” Heinicke said.
“They were so professional and I had a great feel for them right from the start.”
Wilder even took the time to go through hours of game film with him to get an idea of Heinicke’s thought process as plays developed.
“I knew after that, they wanted me and I wanted to be at ODU. They gave me the full royal treatment.”
Heinicke ultimately signs with ODU and the plan was for him to redshirt his freshman year while the senior QB DeMarco handled the 2011 season.
But Heinicke grasped the Monarchs’ offense quickly, so they allowed him to dress without the redshirt tag and if needed he could step in.
It was during an October 1st game against Massachusetts when ODU jumped out to a 25-0 lead over the Minutemen, only to give up 26 unanswered points. DeMarco would suffer an injury in the game and Heinicke was thrust into action.
Following three fourth quarter scoring drives (two of which were TD passes by Heinicke) and a Monarchs 48-33 victory, Heinicke would never relinquish the starting quarterback position even after DeMarco was ready to return to action.
“DeMarco has been great during all this,” Heinicke said of his senior leader. “To this day he continues to help me develop.”
The Monarchs have a 5-1 record since Heinicke stepped in as the starter. They were also just one Towson miracle play away from going 6-0 and winning the CAA Conference in only their third season.
With great poise seldom seen by a freshman and command of the offense, Heinicke had a QB efficiency rating of 155.01. He was 165 for 233 and 1770 yards while throwing 15 TD passes (ran for another three) and only 1 interception.
As ODU and Heinicke prepare for cross town rival Norfolk State in the first round of the FCS playoffs this week, one can’t help but to see the irony that could develop should they be fortunate enough to get past Norfolk State.
With a home victory, Heinicke and ODU would travel back to his home state, as the Monarchs would have a second round match-up with Georgia Southern.
So, what are some of the lessons one can take away from the Taylor Heinicke recruitment process?
- That size does matter when it comes to big time college recruiting.
- That if you are under the radar as a recruit, it takes a family’s assistance and a little luck to find a football home.
- That recruiting is a crapshoot and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to take a second look at a player despite his size and location.
- That it is important for a recruit to feel very good about the coach who is recruiting him.
- That persistence will eventually payoff for a recruit if they keep trying to get their name out there.
- That if you believe in your own abilities, despite your size and what recruiters are looking for, you can make it. (But no one ever said it would be easy!)
The last thing I asked Taylor before our conversation ended was, “Looking back on everything, what would you have done differently to help make the recruiting process easier?”
“Start earlier! I should have started my freshman or sophomore years in high school.
I would tell potential college recruits they should go to as many football camps and clinics as possible. Work with a trainer who can help you. Do whatever helps get your name on the recruiting map.”
Special thanks goes to Mike Dodsworth, Alonzo Brandon, Kim Zivkovich, and Taylor Heinicke for making this article possible.