How does this happen? How does a player who turned 20 last month, who rated three stars coming out of Centennial High in Corona, Calif., who spent the bulk of his true freshman season in Lincoln stretching the first-team defense as a scout squad wide receiver -- how does this guy find himself in the Heisman conversation, being described as the most dynamic player to set foot on the Nebraska campus since
We'll begin to answer by noting that, aside from his otherworldly burst and underrated passing skills,
The torture through which
In high school stadiums and in public parks, passers-by have long stopped and stared, or taken a seat in the stands, as father has put his son through sprints and plyometrics. For starters. A former Iowa State safety whose career was cut short by a knee injury, Casey prefers to "bring [Taylor] to a state of pure physical and mental exhaustion."
Before every game he ever played, dating back to when he was eight years old, Casey reminded his son, "You are the most prepared player, physically and mentally, on that field."
That mental toughness was honed seven years ago, when, as Casey puts it, "Taylor had to grow up overnight." Following his divorce from Taylor's mother in 2003, Casey moved from a spacious house to "a little rental in the bad part of town" near Perris, Calf. Taylor, then 13, chose to move in with his father, who was between careers: He'd left teaching to get into real estate.
"It was tough, financially. We had no cash flow. I couldn't afford anything. I didn't know how we were going to pull out of it," says Casey, who describes that period as "my time of severe depression." Taylor, he recalls, "was my inspiration, my backbone."
After six months, they were joined in the apartment by Taylor's younger brothers
Not surprisingly considering his 15 touchdowns
Casey met a good woman named
Toby Gerhart had five siblings: younger brothers
Todd didn't take it personally when Taylor transferred to Cajon High in San Bernardino after his sophomore year. "He wanted to be a quarterback, and we didn't really ever throw," says the coach. Taylor did a nice job in his first year at QB, getting his new team into the playoffs and accounting for some 1,500 yards.
Halfway through the season, Casey sent an email to Scout.com, the recruiting and rating service, asking them to give his son a look. "What you saw on film," recalls
It didn't help that Taylor was competing in one of the most quarterback-rich classes in memory. He was ranked behind
But he found ways to stand out. He was flat-out dominant at Scout.com's combine in May 2008. Out of some 300 players, he had the fastest three-cone shuttle run, and the third-fastest 40. His vertical jump was 38 inches.
Around that time,
"What can he play?"
"He can play anything."
After conducting his due diligence, Pelini offered Taylor a scholarship in mid-summer, before the kid's senior season. He didn't accept right away. He and Casey visited Lincoln, after which the father told the son, "I don't know if it's going to get much better than this."
Bo Pelini had given his word: Taylor would be given the chance to compete for the quarterback job. "And if you end up at safety," Casey counseled his son, "you're gonna end up being coached by some of the best defensive minds in college football." Plus, Casey liked the strictness of the Pelinis, the accountability they demanded. "It felt like an extension of our family," says Casey, who told Taylor, "I think it's a perfect fit, kiddo."
Taylor committed, then proceeded to make Carl Pelini look very smart. As a senior at Centennial (yes, that's correct, he'd transferred a second time, a story I'll flesh out in next week's
With 2009 starter
"He uses those doubts as fuel," says Casey. If he got no love or was passed over for an award at a football camp; if he earned three stars while QBs he considered his equals got four or five; if a few local writers criticized his transfer to Centennial -- it became his mission to prove the rankings wrong, to silence the critics.
He's done so as Nebraska's starting quarterback. He is averaging 147.4 rushing yards per game this magical season. Of
If the 'Horns intend to tell this kid, "Go ahead and try to beat us with your arm," they may want to be careful what they wish for.