Approximately one year ago, I met the presumed third-string ASU quarterback, Taylor Kelly. At the time, the Sun Devil faithful expected Mike Bercovici or Michael Eubank to get first team reps come opening kick off. However, the Eagle Idaho native, Kelly, trained hard and earned the starting spot.
After Kelly posted 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in 2012, the quarterback controversy appears over. Kelly's transformation deserves major kudos. He rose from the bench to atop the depth chart and became one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football. The coaching staff garnered lots of praise for the quick turnaround, and rightfully so, but Kelly's high level of play made it all possible.
While Brandon Magee and Cameron Marshall represented ASU at the Pac-12 Media Day last season, Kelly wasn't close to representing the maroon and gold. Flash forward to the 2013 Pac-12 Media Day, and Kelly was picked to speak on behalf of the program. Despite the extra notoriety toward Kelly, the redshirt junior continues to strive for improvement.
"I'm truly blessed to get this opportunity to be here (Pac-12 Media Day) with all the other top athletes in the Pac-12," Kelly said. "It's just a lot of hard work paid off and I just got to continue to work hard."
Kelly is not only a solid signal caller, but also a rare 21-year-old who says and does the right things. Modern day players get in trouble routinely, yet Kelly never gets involved and simply goes about his own business. However, the coaching staff isn't thrilled about his drag racing hobby.
"It (drag racing) bothers them a little bit," Kelly said. "I only do it once a year, but I'm going to stop doing that and focus on football." Coach Todd Graham playfully added Kelly's drag racing "bothers me a lot."
On the gridiron, Kelly sports new and improved weapons on the outside. Besides Chris Coyle, the lack of wide receiver production limited Mike Norvell's offensive capabilities. Kelly and Graham both feel like the issue was addressed in the off-season.
"Our wide receivers, I'm not going to have any worries about them this year," Kelly said. "We are going to be dynamic out there and we are going to be able to take some one-on-one shots and get the ball downfield to them."
Graham went on to note Kevin Ozier, Richard Smith, Joe Morris, Jaelen Strong, Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and others have the chance to be playmakers. The quality options are endless, which may elevate the offense from 14th in the nation to the top ten.
"We were 14th in the country scoring points, and we want to be the number one in the country." Graham said. "We've got a chance to be more explosive outside."
Looking ahead, Kelly doesn't foresee any drastic changes for the upcoming season. If it isn't broken, then don't fix it.
"We'll mix little things up," Kelly said. "Just run our stuff and just get high tempo, and get it to our play makers."
The proven playmakers and Kelly will take on a daunting schedule, consisting of games against Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium in consecutive weeks. The challenge could be overwhelming, but Kelly refuses to even comment on the tough four-game stretch.
"We've got the cliche I've been saying all day, but we just got to take it one game at a time," Kelly said. "Sac State, they are 3-0 against Pac-12 schools."
From week seven through 10 last year, ASU came up on the short end of the scoreboard. Four straight losses through the heart of the schedule triggered some pessimistic outlooks. In doing so, Kelly and company faced adversity and learned from the experience.
"We learned a lot from being successful at the beginning of the year and then losing those four games, and then coming back up again," Kelly said. "We learned how to handle success a lot better as a team, and grow from them."
The present and future of ASU football looks bright, and Kelly will be a major part of both. The lofty Rose Bowl expectations are laid out, and Kelly will not shy away from them.
"We have great guys coming back and the summer that we had, and spring ball, has grown," Kelly said. "This year is huge and I can't wait for it to get started."