ASU QB Kelly ready to protect, and serve up TDs

2013-07-27T00:00:00Z 2013-07-27T09:44:38Z ASU QB Kelly ready to protect, and serve up TDsZack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CULVER CITY, Calif. - It's probably safe to say that Todd Graham has never been to Eagle, Idaho.

Taylor Kelly is from there, but Graham didn't recruit Kelly because he wasn't ASU's coach until last year, Kelly's third year in the program.

ASU averaged 56,835 fans at Sun Devil Stadium in 2012. Eagle's population? 21,025.

The most famous person to come from there is probably disgraced former U.S. Senator Larry Craig.

Although, it did produce three former NFL players - Jerry Kramer, Jeb Putzier and Derek Schouman.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to Graham when he saw his starting quarterback burning rubber in a Toyota Supra on the Pac-12 Networks.

You see, when Kelly's back in Eagle, he drag races.

"It bothers (the coaches) a little bit," Kelly said at Friday's Pac-12 media day. "I only do it once a year, but I'm going to stop doing it and focus on football."

"It bothers me a lot!" Graham interjected, with a laugh.

Kelly has drag raced since he was 14 years old, racing his stepfather, stepbrothers and friends. But, now that Graham found out about it, he's going to have to call it quits.

"Well," he said, smiling, "Now I'm retired.

"But, I just loved the adrenaline rush and the competition of driving cars."

That, and he likes being in control. Which is why he has never tried sky diving.

"No way," he said, "I need to have control of what I'm doing. I don't like roller coasters or being behind a boat and tubing, I just have to be in control."

"In (football) games, I can feel it, too. It correlates in a way."

When Graham surprisingly handed Kelly the keys to ASU's offense last season, he quickly found his comfort zone.

With Kelly, then a redshirt sophomore, in the driver's seat, the Sun Devils thrived. They finished second in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, fourth in total offense, second in passing efficiency and third in rushing. Kelly set a single-season ASU record with a 67.1 completion percentage to go with 3,039 passing yards and 29 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. He also rushed for 516 yards and one score.

Oh, and the Sun Devils went 8-5, won the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and beat Arizona for the Territorial Cup.

Graham admitted that, at this time last year, Kelly was probably third in the quarterback pecking order behind Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici.

Stanford coach David Shaw mentioned him Friday - calling him "an exciting young kid" - in the same breath as Pac-12's elite quarterbacks: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Washington's Keith Price, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and UCLA's Brett Hundley.

"I'm blessed to be mentioned in front of these guys," Kelly said. "A bunch of the QBs are great players and great guys to be around so it's really special to be a part of that."

The Star spoke with Kelly on the Sony Studios lot about the upcoming season.

This time last year, you didn't know if you would be the starter. Has your approach changed this season, knowing you will be the starter?

A: "It hasn't changed a bit. I'm just trying to work hard and do the best I can possibly do. I'm blessed that I can come out here and represent my school and get this opportunity to be out here with these guys."

Last year, you guys started hot, then fell off in the second half of the season. What happened?

A: "We just kinda, probably, I don't know. It's a slump that we had; that happens to teams. We learn from that and regroup from that. We finished the year strong, and then going into spring and summer. We had a great spring."

What was the biggest issue for you personally in that slump?

A: "Just protecting the football; it's huge. If we didn't have those turnovers, the games would've changed dramatically. So just protecting the football, that's what I've been trying to do this past spring."

A lot of people have said your team's receiving corps might be a weak spot, what do you think about that position?

A: "They've improved a lot. Being in the first year, it's tough to get the timing down with your receivers, but spring ball and summer were huge. (With) Kevin Ozier and Rick Smith and two juco guys (Jaelen Strong and Joseph Morris), I'm looking forward to playing with them. They're gonna do some great things for us."

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