Monarch QB Grows Quickly
Mega-Prolific Heinicke Smooth On And Off The Field
Posted: November 15, 2012
HARRISONBURG — On Sept. 22, during a 64-61 win over New Hampshire, Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw for an NCAA-record 730 yards, completing 55 of 79 passes (69.6 percent) for five touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Instantly, Heinicke, a 19-year-old sophomore engineering major from Atlanta, became the greatest thing since fire, the wheel and sliced bread combined — at least to the media. Reporters bombarded ODU with 20-30 interview requests, according to sports information director Eric Bohannon.
Heinicke was less specific with his estimate.
“A butt load of them,” he said this week by phone from Norfolk.
Heinicke was on various ESPN outlets, The Tim Brando Show and SiriusXM satellite radio. USA Today also called. It’s no surprise then that — with help from PR-smooth Bobby Wilder, ODU’s coach — Heinicke has become very good at public speaking.
“Yeah, I have,” he said. “Coach Wilder really talks to me about it, too — just try to give long, descriptive answers, and after that New Hampshire game, it’s kind of one of those things where I don’t really get nervous about it anymore.”
He clearly isn’t nervous about passing.
Going into Saturday’s 7 p.m. matchup with James Madison at nearly sold-out Bridgeforth Stadium, Heinicke leads Division I-AA in total offense, total passing yards and passing yards per game.
For the year, he’s completed 68.8 percent of 446 passes for 3,801 yards (380 ypg) with 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while spreading the ball around. Five ODU receivers have 29 or more catches, and Nick Mayers leads with 60.
Tight end Brian Barlow leads JMU with 27.
“The most impressive thing about Taylor and the way he plays is he understands what our concept is at Old Dominion, in terms of what the expectation is at quarterback,” said Wilder, a former quarterback at Maine who restarted ODU’s football program after 69 years in 2007. “First and foremost, it’s protect the football. And No. 2 is find a way to move the chains. That’s what we ask of our quarterback. We’re not asking for certain numbers, yards, completions — any of that stuff. It’s always about protect the ball and then find a way to move the chains.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Heinicke — who said he received 14 scholarship offers (two from low-level I-A schools: Buffalo and Eastern Michigan) and picked ODU over Richmond — is averaging 418.8 yards of total offense per game to lead the No. 4 Monarchs (9-1 overall, 6-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association). Old Dominion has the top-ranked offense in I-AA.
As a team, ODU averages 556.8 yards and 45.1 points, second-best in the nation behind Sam Houston State’s 46.2
The Monarchs, who are ineligible for the CAA title because they are leaving the league next year for Division I-A Conference USA, have done all that despite throwing relatively few deep passes with a balanced attacked. They throw it only 53.3 percent of the time.
“We don’t throw the ball down the field a lot,” Wilder said. “It’s complete the ball and move the chains. That’s what [Heinicke] does so well.”
But, as much as he’s known for his arm — it even has its own Twitter account — Heinicke may be as dangerous with his feet. James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said Heinicke is good enough to start at running back for most CAA teams, even though he’s averaging a modest 38.7 yards per game.
“He’s an excellent thrower, but he makes everyone miss in the open field and keeps plays alive,” Matthews said. “If they didn’t have him sliding, he would be the leading rusher.”
Last season, as a true a freshman, Heinicke averaged 265 yards passing per game and completed 68.7 percent of 307 passes with 25 touchdowns and just one interception in nine games.
He did it with a limited knowledge of the Monarchs’ super-powered spread offense.
JMU (7-3, 5-2) is averaging 399.5 yards and 28.9 points per game but is known for its defense, which is the best in the CAA, giving up 19.3 points an outing.
In his debut season last year, Heinicke said, he knew about 50 percent of the offense. This year, he knows all of it, and, because of that, he has Old Dominion in position to pick up an at-large berth in the playoffs.
“Coach really dumbed the playbook down for me,” said Heinicke, the Old Spice Player of Year in Georgia his senior at Collins Hill High School after throwing for 4,218 yards and 44 touchdowns. “… My main goal this offseason was to learn the whole playbook, get very comfortable with it so I don’t have to think so much on the field — also footwork. I’ve been working a lot on my footwork and timing with the receivers. That’s the biggest thing I’ve worked on this season.”
And, of course, being a, albeit reluctant, media personality.
NOTES: In Tuesday’s Daily News-Record, a story said JMU coach Mickey Matthews closed practice to the media. To clarify, reporters were allowed to attend practice, Matthews said, but only if they did not write about injuries. The News-Record did not agree to that condition because it did not want to be put in a position of witholding information to the public, effectively meaning the practice was closed to its reporters. … JMU middle linebacker Stephon Robertson was named to the Buchanan Award watch list Wednesday. The Buchanan Award is given to the best defensive player in I-AA.