Undersized Old Dominion quarterback has big stats

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 9:42 p.m.

Old Dominion junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke wasn't supposed to be here.

His impressive statistics at Collins Hill High School in Atlanta suggested that Heinicke would play in the SEC or ACC, two prestigious conferences with schools located in his backyard.

Heinicke, however, enters Saturday night's game against Pitt at Heinz Field answering questions about how someone with his impressive pedigree slipped through the recruiting cracks.

“Growing up, I wanted to be a quarterback at the next level. I've been working my tail off my whole life for a chance to get there. It was my dream to play in those conferences,” said Heinicke, who won the Walter Payton Award last year as the best player in FCS.

Generously listed at 6-foot-1 in Old Dominion's media guide, Heinicke admits his lack of height resulted in only Old Dominion, Georgia State and Richmond offering him a scholarship despite finishing second and third, respectively, in Georgia high school history in passing yards and touchdown passes in a single season.

“I was 5-11 (coming out of high school),” said Heinicke, who is completing 74.5 percent of his passes this season for 2,088 yards and 14 touchdowns. “I don't blame them.”

Even Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder didn't know what to expect when the undersized quarterback joined the team.

“We brought him in with plans to redshirt him his freshman year,” Wilder said. “But the starter got hurt in our fifth game. Taylor played the second half and led us to victory and started the rest of the year.”

Directing an up-tempo spread offense similar to what he played in high school, Heinicke finished his freshman campaign completing 211 of 307 passes with just one interception — a Hail Mary pass at the end of a game — to go along with 25 touchdown passes. In the postseason that year, Heinicke averaged 307.5 passing yards and tossed a school-record five touchdown passes against both Norfolk State and Georgia Southern.

As a sophomore, Heinicke broke Steve McNair's 18-year-old record with 5,076 passing yards while setting a FCS record with 398 completions. Heinicke led the nation in passing yards, passing yards per game, completions, touchdown passes, total touchdowns and total offense.

In a dramatic come-from-behind 64-61 win over New Hampshire, Heinicke set a Division I-A record in passing yards (730) and total offense (791 yards).

“The funny thing is we weren't even looking at the stats,” Heinicke said. “We were down 24 points midway through the third quarter. Our main focus was trying to win the game. To win the game we had to throw the ball every down.”

Old Dominion also may apply a pass-happy strategy against Pitt. The Monarchs, who will join Conference USA next season, are playing five FBS opponents in their transition year. They lost to their first two FBS opponents — East Carolina and Maryland — by a combined 51 points.

“In that offense, a lot does fall on (Heinicke),” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “He is athletic, but he is certainly going to try to extend the play and get the ball down the field, a lot like when I was with Russell Wilson (at Wisconsin). When teams do some things coverage wise and they aren't disciplined in their rush lanes, he has exposed people.”

Note: Chryst offered no new information Thursday on injured players, including wide receiver Devin Street and running back James Conner, who are nursing shoulder injuries. But he said he won't hold the players out of the game based on a non-conference opponent. “Too much work goes into it and too few opportunities to play the game,” he said. “If they are healthy and can go, you absolutely go play the game. That's what they love to do. You would never disrespect the game by approaching it any other way.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib. Staff writer Jerry DiPaola contributed.

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