Four years ago, a chance meeting between Old Dominion vice president Alonzo Brandon and a trainer in Georgia by the name of Earl Williams set into motion a chain of events that saw the Monarchs eventually grab a commitment from the top offensive player in Georgia. And while this particular player was certainly talented enough, not one FBS school offered him.
Fast forward four years later, and everyone found out just how good he was.
And as it turns out, Taylor Heinicke--whose first offer from ODU came as a result of that meeting in a shuttle van at LaGuardia Airport between Alonzo Brandon and Heinicke's trainer, Earl Williams--will be playing FBS ball after all.
It's one year, but one's greater than zero. The chances of ODU going FBS were rumblings when he stepped onto campus for the first time in 2011. Those rumblings picked up steam in 2012 as realignment continued to shake the collegiate sports landscape, and in May of that year, ODU announced that it would join Conference USA in all sports starting in 2013, with football to follow in 2014.
Here we are. It's 2014, and it's time for Heinicke's FBS closeup.
"He's got the 'It' factor. He's very much like our guy," raved Marshall head coach Doc Holliday at C-USA Media Days in late July. All Holliday's guy, Rakeem Cato, did last year was throw for 3,916 yards, 39 touchdowns, and rushed for six more scores. He was the media's runaway preseason player of the year pick.
"(Heinicke is) an outstanding quarterback," said UTEP head coach Sean Kugler. "He's got all the tools you look for in a quarterback and he'll be one of the top quarterbacks in our conference."
That's not a hard deduction to make. In 2012, Heinicke threw for an FCS-record 5,076 yards, 213 yards more than the late Steve McNair's output in 1994 with Alcorn State, to go along with 44 touchdowns--while rushing for 11 more. (Last year, he cooled off, throwing for "only" 4,022 yards and 33 touchdowns.) His career numbers: 11,483 yards, 102 touchdowns, just 23 interceptions, and a 69.2% completion percentage. Oh, and he's a fairly good punter as well.
Heinicke, himself, can't believe the program is at the point it's at right now.
"I feel like I just got there (to Old Dominion)," he said, while talking to the ODU sports information contingent that made their way down to Dallas for Media Day. "It's unreal how far we've come, in how short we did it. I wish I could replay the four years, but unfortunately I can't do that, so I'll try to enjoy this last year."
Forget simply playing in FBS. The Monarchs think he could win the Heisman, let alone the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the top college QB, and the Maxwell Award, handed to the player of the year. (The coaches admit that the Heisman chances are slim to none, but figure they'd give it a shot, anyway.)
So what will 2014 have in store for Heinicke? Will he perform at the same high level that he did in FCS? Or will he have trouble adjusting to the upper division and struggle to make an impact?
One thing's for sure. Heinicke's impact on Old Dominion football has been, and will be felt, for years to come. It's a good thing Alonzo Brandon got on that airport shuttle four years ago.