Sitting in a computer class during his sophomore year at Hampton High School, Tyrod Taylor loosened the long braids he had in his hair, watched the clock and waited for class to end.
They were simpler days for Taylor — a time before all the wonderful madness began.
It was a year before he'd lead Hampton to its 17th state football championship. Two years before he'd be considered one of the nation's elite high school quarterbacks. Three years before he'd start his first college game. Four years before he'd commandeer a college team to an Orange Bowl victory. Five years before he'd lead that team to one of the most extraordinary comeback wins in school history. Six years before he'd be standing on the brink of likely winning the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year award.
One knock on the classroom door that afternoon put him on the path.
When he was asked to step into the hallway for a quick meet-and-greet with some distinguished visitors, he had no idea what was ahead. He just knew when he stepped outside that door and saw Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer standing there with nearly his entire assistant coaching staff, it was time to get serious.
"It was wild to walk out in the hallway and see all those coaches," Taylor said. "I was like, 'Whoa.' That blew me away. I think I just smiled at them. I really couldn't say anything, but it made me want to play harder."
Virginia Tech's coaches came to Hampton to visit with Todd Nolen, a highly recruited wide receiver that wound up signing a National Letter of Intent with Virginia Tech, but never playing a down with the Hokies. The coaches left Hampton High that day after starting a relationship with Taylor that would help define the future of their football program.
Virginina Tech became Taylor's college home. After not getting the advantage of a redshirt season to hone his skills — he split time as Virginia Tech's quarterback with Sean Glennon in his freshman and sophomore years — Taylor has established himself as one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks in the last two seasons.
In the last two seasons, he has completed 58 percent of his passes for 4,393 yards, 32 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, while running for 959 yards and nine touchdowns. In limited duty in his first two seasons, he completed a combined 56 percent of his passes for 1,963 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions to go along with 1,167 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
He heads into Saturday's game against Virginia, which will be his last in Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium, with a lengthy list of accomplishments to his credit.
No quarterback in Beamer's 24 seasons as Virginia Tech's coach has more wins (32) as a starter, which is the personal achievement Taylor said makes him most proud. No wonder Beamer refers to Taylor as "perfect."
Taylor is first on Virginia Tech's career list for rushing yards by a quarterback (2,126), first in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (22), tied for first for most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback (six), first in total offense (8,482 yards), second in passing yards (6,356 yards) behind Bruton High graduate Bryan Randall (6,508 yards) and fourth in passing touchdowns (39) behind Randall (48).
Of course, a few years before he started at Hampton High, starting a love affair with all things Virginia Tech-related would've seemed far-fetched. After seeing former Hampton Crabbers like Almondo "Muffin" Curry, Raymond Mann and Marques Hagans all head to the University of Virginia, Taylor couldn't help but be drawn to Charlottesville.
"Tech fans will hate me for this, but growing up, I used to watch a lot of U.Va. because Muffin and a lot of those guys were there," Tyrod said.
Curry, who played cornerback and special teams for U.Va. in 2000, got tickets for Taylor and his father, Rodney, to come out to Blacksburg in the '00 season to see U.Va. play Tech. It was the last home game for Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick, a Warwick High graduate. He led the Hokies to a 42-21 win with 202 yards passing.
"Before those (Hampton High) guys went to U.Va., we'd all go up to games at U.Va. all the time," Curry said. "(Taylor) probably went to more Virginia games than any other school. I kind of thought that might persuade him to go to Virginia, especially since Marques Hagans was going to be leaving when (Taylor) was kind of coming in, but he had to make his own choice."
Witnessing more than 57,000 fans crammed inside Lane Stadium had a profound effect on 11-year-old Taylor. He started to understand the appeal of Virginia Tech.
"I remember when we were walking out of the stadium and I said to (Tyrod), 'It'd be funny if one of these schools wanted you one day'" Rodney said. "We laughed, but then it came full circle. Those schools did want him."
As did nearly every other big-time college football program in the country.
Taylor finished his senior season at Hampton considered by most recruiting analysts to be the nation's best dual-threat quarterback prospect.
Though Taylor appeared to be a lock to go to Virginia Tech for at least a year prior to signing his National Letter of Intent, it was still a situation that caused a lot of stress for Curt Newsome, the Hokies' offensive line coach who calls Hampton his hometown and was one of Tech's primary recruiters on Taylor (along with outside linebackers and strong safeties coach Jim Cavanaugh).
"Every time it was legal for me to be at Hampton High School, I was there," said Newsome, who was hired at Virginia Tech from James Madison University four months before Taylor committed in July 2006.
"Tech had really done a lot of work on him before I got there, so I got the baton with us already in the lead. I just really didn't want to mess it up, but everybody knew who he was, that's for sure. When he was younger, people were already saying, 'We've got a great one coming from the rec league.'"
Indeed, Taylor's rep started to grow in rec league with the Hampton Tornados, where Rodney coached him.
Just before his sixth birthday, Taylor was looking forward to actually putting on the football pads and helmet he'd tried on since he was 3, but his birthday fell two days after the cut-off for 6-year-old participation.
"He'd practiced all summer thinking he was going to play," said Rodney, who is president of the Hampton Roads Players Association, which provides mentoring and training opportunities for youth athletes and who also oversees about 70 inmates at a federal halfway house in Newport News. "We tried to kind of work around it, but at the end of the day, you can't."
Seeing the disappointed tears roll down the face of their only child was difficult to accept for Rodney and Trina Taylor, who have been married for 25 years and who are both Hampton High alums.
When he finally got to play, Tyrod got a chance to show what he'd being doing for a few years in sandlot games, when he emulated former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham and former Hampton Crabber legend Ronald Curry.
"I liked being in control," said Taylor regarding his gravitation to the quarterback position. "Even playing with my cousins and stuff growing up, I could always throw the football. I always could throw it the longest and it always looked the best, so they were like 'Man, you need to play quarterback.'"
By the time he got to Hampton High, it was just a matter of time before he would slide into the quarterback spot. The moment came a little sooner than expected when starter Mike Roberts broke his leg in a preseason scrimmage, putting Taylor in the starting spot for the first game of his freshman year. Taylor learned the value of efficiency at Hampton, where he said coach Mike Smith would get on him about throwing incompletions.
"You tell Tyrod he's lucky," Smith said. "I've chewed (current Hampton quarterback David Watford's) butt so bad, he doesn't have one left, but Tyrod always took it well. I really didn't have to get on him much. He always had a knack for putting the ball right where the receiver is supposed to be. Tyrod is a lot like Marques and Ronald and even David. The great ones are just tough. They're all similar in the way that they're quarterbacks with a linebacker's mentality."
Taylor was more prepared for the job than most kids his age. He'd already spent hours sitting on the front porch talking about football with Almondo and Ronald Curry, who were almost like brothers to Taylor. Ronald, who played at North Carolina and for seven seasons in the NFL after his storied career at Hampton High, became the ideal football role model for Taylor.
"It was a good thing to have in my life to look up to him," said Tyrod, who will graduate in the spring from Virginia Tech with a degree in residential property management. "I remember my mom saying, 'Look at that guy.' It looked like he was doing everything perfect."
Taylor has also adopted Ronald's stone-faced approach to the game. There isn't much emotion other than a quick chest-thump or arms raised to the sky after throwing a touchdown pass. That's not to say he doesn't feel the highs and lows.
No single moment made him more elated than when he led Virginia Tech 83 yards in September 2009 for a game-winning touchdown drive in the last minute and 44 seconds of a 16-15 home win against Nebraska.
No moment makes him seethe more than when the clock struck zero in Virginia Tech's 33-30 loss to Boise State this season, a shortcoming Taylor is convinced should've never happened, and one that was followed five days later by a shocking 21-16 home loss to James Madison. If anything, the losses break Taylor's heart because his dream was to go undefeated and have a shot at the national championship — goals he knows would've put him in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy.
"(Tech running back) Ryan (Williams) said this early in the season, and I believe it, but sometimes it's not the best player in the country, it's the best player on the team that wins the most," Taylor said. "That's the personal award that you want. I'm not saying I could've won the Heisman or anything like that, but those two losses hurt. If we'd have won those two games, and been undefeated, my name could've been in there."
Those are the few regrets in Taylor's life to this point. He doesn't have a criminal record to be ashamed of — the worst trouble Rodney can ever remember his son being in was talking back to his mom when he was about 6 years old.
When Taylor walks out onto the Lane Stadium field before Saturday's game to enjoy Senior Day honors, he'll stand next to his mom and dad, and the emotions might finally hit.
"I'm not going to cry," Taylor said. "I know my mom is going to cry, but I'm not going to cry. I think when she starts to cry I've got to be the strong one, because if we both start to cry, it's all going to go out the window. I think I'm going to be good."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times