Atlanta native Taylor Heinicke never considered attending Georgia Southern, never even wanted to come to Statesboro and attend a football game.
“They always ran the triple option, and it didn’t catch my interest in watching the triple option as a quarterback so I never went down there,” said Heinicke, who starred at Collins Hill High School.
Now Heinicke’s main focus is beating Georgia Southern.
The sophomore quarterback will lead fourth-seeded Old Dominion into Saturday’s FCS quarterfinal matchup with the Eagles at Ballard Stadium.
Heinicke is the star for the 11-1 Monarchs. He’s one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top player in the FCS.
Heinicke has thrown for 4,655 yards, 41 touchdowns and has just 13 interceptions. On Saturday, he’ll likely break Steve McNair’s FCS single-season record of 4,863 passing yards set in 1994.
Heinicke’s highlight game came when he threw for 730 yards and five touchdowns in a 64-61 victory over New Hampshire on Sept. 22.
“He’s surely the player our team looks at and feels like no matter what the score, we’re going to win the game because he’s our quarterback,” Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder said.
Heinicke’s passing yardage broke the Division I single-game mark of 716 set by Houston’s David Klinger against Arizona State in 1990.
It was just one yard short of the all-division record of 731 set by Zamir Amin, of Division III Menlo, against Cal Lutheran in 2000.
Heinicke’s single-season in passing yards per game (387.9) are third all-time in the FCS behind McNair (442.1) and Mississippi Valley State’s Willie Totten (455.7).
Heinicke, who plays in a spread offense, says he tries not to think about records, but sometimes he can’t help himself.
“It sits back there in the back of my mind and it’s pretty cool to be mentioned with those kind of names,” Heinicke said. “I try to let it sink in for a little bit, but there’s no time for that. It’s time for Georgia Southern.”
Heinicke couldn’t help but think a little bit about Georgia Southern while in high school. Former Eagle linebacker David Willingham was a Collins Hill assistant coach and made a soft sales pitch.
Georgia Southern recruiters signed one of Heinicke’s best friends, Jake Banta, now the Eagles’ long snapper.
“(Georgia Southern recruiters) shook my hand and said nice to meet you, but you’re a passer, we’re looking more for a running quarterback,” Heinicke said.
It worked out best for all parties. How could the Eagles have kept Heinicke happy? Georgia Southern quarterbacks have thrown 76 passes this season. He threw 79 times against New Hampshire.
Last season, Heinicke finally came to Paulson Stadium. He broke into the Monarchs’ starting lineup at midseason and threw for 341 yards and five touchdowns in a memorable playoff game between Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. He also ran for 75 yards.
But Georgia Southern’s triple option won, 55-48.
Heinicke now enters with more experience.
“Last year, it was a great game,” he said. “It came down to an onside kick that we recovered but a half yard short. Hopefully, it goes better this year.”