Colorado State football coach Jay Norvell had a quiet national signing day with the Rams’ 2022 class finalized during the early period.
But Norvell has an old recruiting story that resonates ahead of next week’s Super Bowl. He landed one of the head coaches.
In 2004, with Norvell the offensive coordinator at Nebraska, he traveled to rural Kansas to scout a Butler Community College quarterback named Zac Taylor. The now 38-year-old football savant will lead the Cincinnati Bengals against the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Norvell recalled what made Taylor such a highly-touted college football prospect — in the middle of nowhere.
“They’ve got a drive-in movie theater right across the street from campus,” Norvell said. “But we were looking for a guy to really start throwing the football. For decades, (Nebraska) had just run the ball. We had a profile. We wanted someone that was a coach’s kid. A gym rat that was really smart and had a huge passion for the game. Zac was all of that.”
Norvell beamed with pride retelling the story Wednesday inside the Denver Country Club for the annual Rams Round-Up event for alumni and prominent boosters. The new CSU head coach is still making introductions while developing the program. Norvell needs more recruiting finds like Zac Taylor — the 2006 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year — to make it happen.
CSU signed 28 players to its 2022 signing class, including 11 Nevada transfers, to begin the Norvell era in Fort Collins. His next move? Keeping the top prospects in Colorado from leaving the state in 2023 and beyond.
“I was out the last two weeks visiting a lot of schools in the state and encouraging those kids to come up and visit us,” Norvell said. “We had a Junior Day with 120 kids and their families up. Last weekend, we had a preferred walk-on day where we invited the top kids in the state. I loved meeting the coaches. Recruiting the state of Colorado is going to be the backbone of our program.
“We want every kid that is a quality player to come to Fort Collins.”
Norvell is also conscious of the challenges facing the program to make those scholarships available. CSU’s reliance on the transfer portal reflects a national movement toward player mobility in college football.
“I don’t think any of us really have a grasp on how that’s going to influence everything. For sure, the portal is limiting opportunities for high school kids to get scholarships,” Norvell said. “Familiarity is still the best way to recruit. We were able to get 11 kids from Nevada and we know everything about those kids. It makes the most sense to take kids that you know. But I think it’s going to level out as we go.”
Norvell won’t limit his recruiting staff locally, either, with only three Colorado high school players signed to the latest class. Landing Zac Taylor in 2004 required an out-of-state push. Norvell has followed Taylor’s budding coaching career ever since. Norvell isn’t surprised by his meteoric rise in the NFL.
“(Bengals quarterback) Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor are like the same person,” Norvell said. “When a coach and a player have that kind of chemistry, good things are going to happen. It’s a lot of fun coaching a guy who is like you. That’s the way Zac was when we had him at Nebraska. … When I saw that he got Joe, I knew they were going to be really good together.”
Norvell’s Super Bowl score prediction?
“Bengals by a field goal,” he said.