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September 14, 2006

Taylor grows into Huskers star

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Zac Taylor grew up in the shadows of the Oklahoma campus without ever thinking he would grow up to play quarterback for Nebraska.

But it wasn't just Sooner loyalty that kept him from envisioning this improbable scenario.

This drop-back quarterback seemed like the worst possible fit for the traditional Cornhuskers option attack.

"Never in a million years did I ever feel I'd be at Nebraska playing football, mainly because they ran the option and I was always the slowest quarterback on my team," Taylor said. "I never saw myself running the ball. That's the last team I imagined playing for."

Sometimes things don't quite work out according to plan.

That's the only explanation for how the son of former Oklahoma defensive back and graduate assistant coach Sherwood Taylor finds himself operating Nebraska's West Coast offense.

Could anyone have written this script five years ago?

"I don't think my dad ever imagined me playing here," Taylor said. "He played and coached at Oklahoma and knew the history. But my parents are more excited than anybody else."

Thanks to Taylor, Nebraska fans are almost equally excited.

Taylor set a school record with 2,653 passing yards last season as the Huskers ended the year on a three-game winning streak that included an Alamo Bowl upset of Michigan. He's on pace to break that record this season after completing 73 percent of his passes for 489 yards in the Huskers' first two games.

Nebraska will take the nation's second-ranked scoring offense into Southern California this weekend. ( Watch the preview.)

"He pretty much always has us in the right plays and always reads the plays right," Nebraska wide receiver Maurice Purify said. "He's always pretty accurate."


That word sure couldn't have described Taylor a year ago.

In his first three games last season, Taylor completed just 43 percent of his passes with three interceptions and one touchdown. He finished the season with a 55 percent completion rate.

Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor was a guest on Rivals Radio on Wednesday.
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Now he looks like a different player.

"He's been real solid and is making real good decisions," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "He's dispersing the ball well, getting it to a lot of different guys. In terms of his reads and progressions, he's remained quite disciplined in that aspect of his play.''

Callahan's leap of faith brought Taylor to Nebraska in the first place.

Taylor originally signed with Wake Forest, where he attempted only one pass in two years before transferring to Butler County (Kan.) Community College. He threw for 29 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards in 2004 while leading Butler County to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship game.

"He was a kid who's been groomed for it his whole life, with his father being a collegiate coach," Butler coach Troy Morrell said. "He understood the game and what it took to play that position - the leadership role and the X's and O's part of it. He obviously got it all."

While Taylor had been putting together his brilliant season at Butler County, Callahan was installing a pass-oriented offense as Nebraska's first-year coach. Taylor figured he would enroll at Marshall until Nebraska called two weeks before signing day.

"It was a last-minute deal," Taylor said.

Taylor proceeded to win the starting job the following spring while learning the nuances of Callahan's scheme. After struggling in the first three weeks last season, Taylor set a school record by throwing for 431 yards in his fourth game as the Huskers edged Iowa State 27-20 in double overtime.

Zac Taylor set Nebraska single-season and single-game records for passing yardage last year. The senior quarterback also appears on his way to breaking the school's career passing record. Here are the top 10 passers in Huskers history.
Name Years Yards
Dave Humm
Jerry Tagge
Eric Crouch
Tommie Frazier
Turner Gill
Vince Ferragamo
Zac Taylor
Jammal Lord
Steve Taylor
Scott Frost
He later followed that up with a 392-yard effort the second-highest total in school history in a 30-3 triumph over Colorado that closed the regular season.

But his most recent game may rank as his best in a Huskers uniform.

Taylor delivered as many touchdown passes (four) as incompletions in a 56-7 thrashing of Nicholls State. The senior went 19-of-23 for 202 yards and didn't throw an interception.

That performance illustrated just how far Taylor has come in the last year.

"He's a guy that's smart," Callahan said. "He's sharp. He's intelligent. He's not going to hold the ball. He understands he's got to manage that as well as anything not taking sacks, not taking minus yards, getting (rid of) the ball quick."

Then again, the Nicholls States of the world aren't supposed to slow down Nebraska. Taylor will get a much better indication of his progress Saturday when the Huskers measure themselves against the dominant program of the 21t century.

"It's going to be a tough test for us," Taylor said. "They have as much talent as any team in the country. They're really well coached. It's a good chance to see where we're at."

Taylor may have seemed like an unlikely candidate to lead Nebraska back to national prominence, but the former Norman (Okla.) High star has embraced the challenge.

Although he spent most of his childhood living about a two-minute drive from the Oklahoma campus, Taylor says he always respected the Nebraska program. And even now that he plays quarterback at a rival school, Taylor insists he is treated with respect every time he returns home to Oklahoma.

"Honestly, people don't really give me a hard time," Taylor said. "Friends are excited to see me play there. I've even turned a couple of them into Nebraska fans."

Taylor's biggest convert shares his last name.

After playing and coaching at Oklahoma, Taylor's father has discovered that family ties mean more than school ties.

"Without a doubt,'' Taylor said, "he's a Nebraska fan for good.''

Watch the preview: No. 19 Nebraska (2-0) at No. 4 USC (1-0)

For more coverage of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, check out HuskersIllustrated.com.

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