“All I know about Zac is, he’s a football guy.” ––Scott Frost on Zac Taylor
But I digress . . .
How can that be? This is just the beginning, right?
Well, Zac Taylor, the new head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, is the subject here. But first a mention of Harrison Beck, a brief mention, sort of like his time at Nebraska.
Beck, a quarterback from Clearwater, Florida, was the centerpiece of Coach Bill Callahan’s second recruiting class in 2005, though junior college transfer Zack Bowman, a cornerback from Anchorage, Alaska, by way of New Mexico Military Institute, had a 5-star rating.
Beck’s rating was 4 stars, as I recall.
As Callahan told it, when Beck called to tell him of his commitment, he had to pull his vehicle to the side of the road because of his excitement, or something like that.
Beck’s departure, or rather disappearance, was similarly dramatic. Early in fall camp of his sophomore year, following practice, Callahan was asked why Beck wasn’t there. Callahan said he had no idea where Beck was. Turns out he was headed home to Florida.
Beck’s career at Nebraska was over. He had appeared in two games late in the 2004 season and thrown 10 passes, one was complete and one was intercepted.
He was awarded a letter for his efforts.
Which brings us to Taylor, a quarterback from Norman, Oklahoma, by way of Wake Forest and Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kansas.
Taylor, whose father Sherwood was a defensive back for Barry Switzer at Oklahoma in the late 1970s, spent two years at Wake Forest, the first as a redshirt, the second as a back-up. Then he passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns at Butler County Community College to earn second-team NJCAA All-America honors and attract Nebraska’s attention. Callahan brought him in to push Beck, never envisioning he would be the primary reason for Beck’s departure.
Taylor enrolled for second semester and emerged atop the depth chart after capping the spring by passing for 357 yards and three touchdowns in the Red-White game. The other quarterbacks that spring included sophomore Beau Davis, redshirt freshman Joe Ganz and sophomore Jordan Adams, a junior college transfer who had missed the 2004 season because of injury.
Callahan recruited heavily in junior colleges, signing 25 in four years. By comparison, Frank Solich had signed only eight in his seven seasons as head coach.
Tom Osborne signed 42 in 25 seasons.
But I digress . . .
Taylor was among 12 junior college transfers in Callahan’s 2005 class of 28, including two others from Butler County: tight end Justin Tomerlin and wide receiver Frantz Hardy. In addition to Taylor, four other junior college transfers also enrolled early and participated in spring practice.
Nebraska went 5-6 in Callahan’s first season, losing its final three games, the last 26-20 against Colorado at Memorial Stadium. Afterward, Callahan said it was only one game in one season, a comment that perturbed some Husker fans.
Nebraska hadn’t endured a losing season since 1961.
The Huskers went 8-4 Taylor’s first season, finishing with a dramatic 32-30 victory against Michigan in the Alamo Bowl, and 9-5 his second—they capped the regular season with a 37-14 victory at Colorado to advance to the Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma.
Nebraska had earned its way back into the national rankings, as high as No. 17 before a 22-20 loss to No. 5 Texas. The Huskers had dropped out and then climbed back in, to No. 19 going into the championship game against No. 8 Oklahoma. The Sooners won 21-7 on a cold day in Kansas City.
Nebraska also lost its final game, 17-14 to No. 10 Auburn in the Cotton Bowl.
Taylor was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2006 after passing for 3,197 yards and 26 touchdowns, with only eight interceptions. In two seasons, he threw for 5,850 yards and 45 TDs. Both totals rank third all-time at Nebraska, behind only those of Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Taylor Martinez.
Taylor had helped turn things around it seemed. But that’s a story for another time.
It would be a digression here. So let’s end how we started.
“Everything I’ve ever heard about him is how much he loves the game.” ––Scott Frost on Zac Taylor
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.