The stories of certain individuals are heart warming and inspiring, while providing great examples for younger generations. ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly's saga fits that criteria.
Kelly was raised in Eagle, Idaho, possessing dreams and aspirations to follow Jake Plummer's footsteps. Now the two can easily relate, as Kelly is beginning to create his own mark on Sun Devil history.
Overcoming obstacles has become normal for Kelly, from breaking out of a small town, to perceived height deficiencies and slated by some to be Mr. Clipboard. The soft spoken, polite, and easygoing young man continues to prove doubters wrong.
Through hard work and dedication, Kelly climbed out of the depth chart cellar during fall camp, stripping Mike Bercovici's and Michael Eubank's opportunity away. ASU's 5-1 surprising start made Kelly seem like the correct choice, but then massive hurdles began to appear.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Coach Todd Graham's squad suffered four consecutive gut-wrenching losses, hitting the team with a slight reality check and knocking them back to .500. Fans were not shy to voice displeasure, seeing similarities to last season's horrible choke job. Kelly's high level of play slipped during the rough patch, leaving many wondering if a change was on the horizon.
"I never paid attention to that stuff, and I don't listen to the media or what people say," Kelly said. "I just got to control what I can control and just keep my head down and stay focused."
Regardless of the lame ducks and struggles Kelly experienced, he never got rattled. Good quarterbacks are supposed to erase memories quickly, and simply learn from mistakes and move on. Kelly did exactly that, cruising to a 2-0 finish via victories over Washington State and at cross-state rival Arizona.
"It was amazing," Kelly said of beating Arizona, "and really special for us to go down there and get that win, it was huge for our program."
Winning down in the Tucson instantly established Kelly as the clear incumbent heading into 2013. People commonly forget Kelly is only a redshirt sophomore, yet could set school records in his first year starting.
Overall, Kelly's 2,772 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions earned him most improved honors. Barring a unrealistic collapse in the bowl game, Kelly's 65.9 completion percentage would be the greatest in ASU football history, surpassing the mark Brock Osweiler set last year. Settling for solid numbers is not in Kelly's agenda, as he knows there is a plethora of improvement possible.
"Learning aspects of the games that I struggled in, keep getting better with my footwork and reads," Kelly said of his immediate goals.
After sitting down with Kelly, lots of his success was diverted to offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Mike Norvell. Together Kelly and Norvell engineered a high-octane offense that averaged 36.4 points per contest.
"He's a great coach and I'm very blessed to have him be my coach, and he knows a lot." Kelly said. "He expects perfect out of you, there is never a day off."
The humbled Kelly dishes out props left and right, but accumulated solid numbers in spite of little production from his wide receivers. However, the running back duo of Marion Grice and D.J. Foster helped relinquish some pressure.
Kelly's main savior and counterpart was tight end Chris Coyle. After Coyle caught a mere six receptions during 2010, the junior tight end now has 53, approaching Zach Miller's tight end school record.
"He (Coyle) is a great guy for me, I have great trust in him," Kelly said. "He makes big plays on third downs and gets the ball moving."
ASU has been searching for a long-term quarterback for five years, and Kelly will answer the bell. Kelly's ability to never give up demonstrated poise, and taught myself lessons on self-belief. Looking ahead to incoming highly touted quarterback recruit Joshua Dobbs seems inevitable, but Kelly still represents the present and future of Sun Devil football.
"It has been a great journey, and I've been truly blessed for the guys around me," Kelly said. "I just got to keep improving for next year and into this bowl game."