Wednesday, August 29th: The Eve of Game Day
"I was tossing and turning as I was trying to sleep."
And for good reason. The next day, Taylor Kelly will take the field for the first time as the starting quarterback of the Arizona State Sun Devils, and his effort will be a primary factor in how this new era of Sun Devil football will begin.
From the ashes of the 2011 season and the coaching search, the ASU football program has undergone a remarkable transformation under Todd Graham. Nearly every aspect of the team has been altered from a year ago, and that includes the quarterback position.
Considered the longest-shot in the three-man quarterback battle, Kelly's ability to avoid mistakes and improved downfield passing put him atop the depth chart. That earned him the team's starting quarterback job, with his first test coming against NAU.
Prior to his tossing and turning and with the 2012 kickoff just hours away, Kelly is cramming some last minute preparation in before he tries to rest up for his starting debut.
"We had a quiz and I was studying the playbook and the defensive scouting report. I was just reviewing that at night so it was fresh in my mind as I slept."
Thursday, August 30th: Game Day, 9:30 a.m.
The alarms go off at the team hotel, and the players awake. The team breakfast is set for 10:30 a.m, but for Kelly, nerves were on the menu."In the morning, we had breakfast and I had the butterflies. As the game kept getting closer and closer, I kept getting anxious. My anxiety and butterflies and excitement kept building up throughout the day."
Following breakfast, Kelly and the players attend a meeting where details were gone over yet again, and the first nine plays were reviewed.
After that, most of the players retire to their rooms for a few hours of relaxation. During the morning and into the early afternoon hours, Kelly and the guys interacted in their normal, loose fashion, but that began to change as the game drew near.
"It was just the normal casual talk. As the day kept getting closer, guys were just focusing up and guys weren't talking much at the team dinner. Guys were focused."
Thursday, August 30th: 4:30 p.m.
The entire team gathers again for another meeting. Once again, assignments, responsibilities and other details are reviewed.
"We get together and go over things like 'O-line, what are you looking for with this type of look from the defense?' Quizzes and mental corrections to keep your mind fresh on that."
By this time in the afternoon, Kelly anxiousness had grown to a fever pitch. But rather than be a detriment, it helped keep him centered.
"I couldn't wait to get out there, so they (his nerves) kept growing on me. But it kept me focused, so that was good. By the time I got on the bus, I was just ready and excited."
After the meeting, the players get dressed, load onto the buses and head to Sun Devil Stadium.
Thursday, August 30th: 7:42 p.m.
Before he runs out onto the field for his first play as a starter, Kelly gets a few last words of advice.
"Coach Norvell came up to me and said 'Let's go. Have fun. We've been waiting for this and working hard for this. Go out there, have fun and cut it loose.' It helped remind me that it's just another game of football, the game that you love playing. It kept me focused and calm."
The first play call had that same goal in mind. Knowing the nerves a young first-time starter faced, Norvell dialed up an appropriate, high-percentage play. After a fake handoff, Kelly rolled to his right and had a simple read,along with the option to run. He found D.J. Foster for a 16-yard gain.
The goal of the play "was to get into a rhythm," said Kelly. "Get me out of the pocket and based on reads I could run or throw it away. It was a good play call."
Thursday, August 30th: 9:32 p.m.
Now that's a way to start a career, but it's not over yet.
In his first half of work, Kelly complete nine of his 15 passes for 187 yards and runs for 49 yards. Most importantly, his team leads 42-0.
But in the locker room, there was anything but satisfaction surrounding the effort.
"It was 0-0 again. We need to come out strong with the good focus we had at the beginning of the game and attack them. Don't get lazy out on the field. Just be attacking the opposing team."
Thursday, August 30th: 10:00 p.m.
Despite that relentless attitude in the Sun Devil locker room, the team did appear to take the foot of the gas as the second half opened. NAU even managed to break the shutout, and narrow their deficit to 42-6.
Nevertheless, Kelly allowed himself to accept an impending victory "around the mid-third quarter. We had a pretty good margin on them and were putting our second-team in."
With the win in hand, Kelly took a seat and Michael Eubank and Ryan Woods closed out the game in relief.
Thursday, August 30th: 10:55 p.m.
It's now official: Arizona State defeats NAU 63-6.
Kelly's final line: 15 of 19 for 247 yards, one touchdown, 43 yards rushing and most importantly, no turnovers.
The young quarterback was happy, but not for himself or about his performance. Like a good quarterback, it was all about the team.
"I was excited. We got the win for our team and Coach Graham. I was just really excited and happy for our guys."
They were also excited for him.
Following Coach Graham's speech and the game ball presentation in the locker room after the game, Kelly had the honor of smashing the NAU rock. In this new tradition, the team smashes a rock with an opponent's logo after every win.
For his effort, Kelly got to take the sledgehammer and let 'er rip.
Thursday, August 30th: 11:40 p.m.
With a perfect 1-0 record as a starting quarterback, and a post-game press conference under his belt, Kelly now leaves Sun Devil Stadium. Rather than follow the lead of most people in his position, Kelly opts not to go out to Mill Avenue and get rowdy in his celebration like so many other people his age.
"I just went to dinner with my parents and kept it low key."
That attitude fits a young man whose quiet rise to the top of the depth chart caught many off guard. Kelly is not the most talented nor most vocal quarterback ASU has had, but as of this moment, his winning percentage is the best, and that is all any fan—or parent—can ask for.
"My mom came up to me, gave me a hug and said, 'You looked awesome out there. We're proud of you.'"
She's not the only one.