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ASU Football: The other Taylor; quarterback Cohan thrives behind the scenes

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You won't see his face on game day, but Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Cohan had as important of a role as any player in preparing Arizona State to face Colorado.

Taylor Cohan is wearing Connor Wood's No. 5 jersey this week.
Taylor Cohan is wearing Connor Wood's No. 5 jersey this week.

When a 6-foot-3, broad-shouldered athlete cruises around campus in his team-issued Arizona State football gear, it's hard to avoid the questions. Curious students inevitably approach him and the conversation almost always goes like this.

"You play football?"

"Yep," he answers politely.

"What position do you play?"

"Quarterback," knowing exactly what the student is about to ask.

"Oh you're Taylor Kelly!"

"No, I'm Taylor Cohan."

The whole encounter makes for plenty of awkward situations. Many students aren't sure how to react, but for Arizona State's fourth-string quarterback, that's just fine. His teammates and coaches know exactly who they're dealing with.

"We have it worked out on the team, he's TK and I'm T-Co," Cohan said when asked to describe how the Sun Devils differentiate during practice.

"We have it worked out on the team, he's TK and I'm T-Co."

Most days, it's simple. One of the Taylors is the big man on campus, a second-year starter with an eye on the Arizona State single-season record books. The other Taylor is the Sun Devil scout team quarterback, resigned to a gold practice jersey and taking hits from the Arizona State starting defense on a daily basis.

While Taylor Kelly is just one Pac-12 quarterback, Taylor Cohan is all of them. The redshirt freshman is charged with emulating a new opposing quarterback every week. Cohan studies the intricacies of every quarterback the Sun Devils play against and applies his work on the practice field.

"Coach Graham is very precise on how he wants things," Cohan said.

"I have to study film and be ready to be just like Connor Wood this week, or Cody Kessler, or Kevin Hogan."

Playing on the Sun Devils' scout team is no easy task. The scout team operates like an NFL practice squad as scout-teamers devote each week to running an entirely new offense and defense. Every week, players must learn new playbooks and their ability to master new schemes determines how well-prepared the Sun Devil first-stringers will be come game day.

"Our look (scout) team is important each week in preparing us to play in a league that is so dynamic," Sun Devil coach Todd Graham said. "Offensively, the diversity of what you have to see each week is so important."

Arizona State's scout team players practice with the rest of the team through individual position drills, but during team periods, they become the enemy. The scout team players rotate jersey numbers at practice each week, to reflect their upcoming opponent. This week, Cohan will wear Colorado quarterback Connor Wood's No. 5 jersey, because the Sun Devil defense needs to get used to locating that number.

"When they do ones vs. ones, we do scouts vs. scouts which is a lot of fun for us," Cohan said of the scout team's practice agenda. "We actually get experience with our offense and it's fun over there. But after that, it's all against ASU, we're Colorado pretty much."

Absorbing hits from the likes of Will Sutton and Carl Bradford on a daily basis isn't a choice most college students would make. Cohan could have decided to play small-school college football and perhaps even start at some universities, but he felt at home when he visited Arizona State.

"I came to a spring practice last year and I got to talk to Coach Norvell and I just really liked the way our offense was attacking, the high-tempo of it, and I liked the discipline and the way we do things here," Cohan said.

Despite being a four-sport athlete at Monte Vista Christian High School in Northern California, the Sun Devil coaching staff didn't have a scholarship offer for Cohan. Still, after throwing for 30 touchdown passes and 2,238 passing yards as a senior, Cohan wasn't ready to give up on his dream of playing for a Division I school.

"My coach sent my film to Coach Norvell and put me in contact with him," Cohan said. "They seemed like they wanted me, they told me they wanted me here, and I thought that was the best opportunity for me academically and football-wise."

If Cohan had decided to forego the chance to walk-on at Arizona State, he had plenty of options to continue his football career. A high-school honor student with an accurate arm is appealing to many teams, including some of the best in the FCS.

"I had an Ivy League offer at the University of Pennsylvania and a couple of other smaller schools," Cohan said of some of his highlighted options. "Eastern Washington, I didn't have an offer, but they said I could come play."

One of the main reasons that Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell were so interested in Cohan is his football I.Q. Cohan has the brains to study at an Ivy League college and he carries over that knowledge to the film room and the field. With a sharp, charismatic leader in the huddle, the scout team offense can develop, thrive, and become well-versed in a variety of different play books.

"Learning that offense every week and trying to do it how whatever team we're playing does it," Cohan says. "We have to do it at a high level to get our team ready, get the defense ready. If you make any mistakes, it's going to be noticed."

The Sun Devil coaching staff holds the scout team to the same standards as the rest of the squad. However, there are a few benefits to putting on a new jersey number every week. When the time comes to choose a career, Cohan is a shoe-in for jobs as an impersonator. Some of the favorite quarterbacks he's emulated are Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Notre Dame's Tommy Rees.

"Last year, Oregon was really fun. This year, Notre Dame was fun, we got to go empty a lot, spread it out and pass a lot," Cohan said.

Turning the page is even harder for a scout team than it is for the starters coming off of a big game. Win, and the first-string players can build off of their momentum. Lose, and they need to find a way to find their stride. As for the scout-team, each week is a new chapter because they have to know their responsibilities and roles in time for Tuesday's practice.

"If they can execute 13 or 14 different offenses and defenses, that's a challenge so that's something that is vital to us," Todd Graham said of the scout team's importance.

Even with the chance to be Keith Price, Sean Mannion and Brett Hundley in the coming weeks, if left to his druthers, Cohan just wants to be himself. After this season, Cohan will have three years of eligibility left and he can't help but dream of taking the field on game day.

Cohan suits up with the rest of his teammates for home games, but as the fourth option on the depth chart, he doesn't have much of a chance of seeing the field. Like most college backups, Cohan uses that as motivation to improve and pursue his personal dream of taking a snap as the Sun Devils' quarterback.

"If they can execute 13 or 14 different offenses and defenses, that's a challenge so that's something that is vital to us," Graham said.

"That's the ultimate goal for me. I'm very competitive," Cohan said. "Every chance I get I try to learn from older guys, Taylor and the two Mikes, they're always great at helping me out and bringing me along."

Cohan also strives to ascend from the Sun Devils' scout team to the program's travel-squad. Todd Graham brought more players to Dallas than he usually brings on road trips so his young players could experience the bright lights. Unfortunately for Cohan, he watched the game back in Tempe with some of his fellow scout team players.

Cohan knows he's still young and he wants to build his confidence every day. It's not easy waking up every morning without the chance to carve out a niche as a starter, though that doesn't affect his love for the game.

"I just love coming out and getting to play football," Cohan said. "For us it's trying to give the best look and try and show that we're getting better every week.

"It's a challenge but it's great practice for us, great experience. You've got one of the best d-linemen in the nation coming at you everyday. We use it as an opportunity to get better and try and make them better."

Todd Graham sees the value of building up his scout team as more than just a group of players who can give his first-team a quality look. He tries to load up his roster with raw potential that may one day matriculate into the starting lineup.

"I just love coming out and getting to play football."

"Many of those guys are young guys that we're developing for our future so they're very important and those guys are doing a nice job for us," Graham said of this year's group.

Aside from playing football, Cohan remains involved in the Sun Devils' community in another capacity as well. He is one of just four football players who are students in Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State. Cohan is the definition of a scholar-baller and the coaching staff uses Cohan as a model for what they hope the rest of his teammates can aspire to in the classroom.

"Academics have always been really important to me," Cohan said. "I know that the coaches know that I'm in Barrett and they expect me to get a good GPA and be on top of my school work."

When the time comes for Cohan to graduate from Arizona State, some of his teammates will attempt to make a career out of playing football. As for the marketing major, he'll focus on continuing his career orchestrating success from behind the scenes.

"I really like the behind the scenes stuff in sports entertainment," Cohan said. "I watch the 30 for 30s, just anything ESPN or NFL productions. I think being behind the scenes or doing marketing for that would be really cool."

Today, Cohan focuses on becoming Connor Wood. The Sun Devil scout team quarterback has to do his best impression of Colorado's gunslinger to make sure Cohan's defense is prepared on Saturday night. But when it comes time for game day, Cohan will fade into the background and take his place behind the scenes.

That's why a career in production would come naturally to a scout team player. You'll never see Taylor Cohan's face, but you'll always know that he's making a profound impact.