Washington QB Taylor Heinicke's journey: From brats to NCAA records to seltzer sprays

Editor's note: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke went in for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick during Sunday's 2021 NFL Week 1 game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Washington Football Team. Here's what you need to know about Heinicke, from a story that originally published Jan. 2, 2021.

ASHBURN, Va. -- As Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke waited out a TV break during his first NFL drive in two years, rookie defensive end Chase Young ran up to him. He wanted to encourage Heinicke. The onetime undrafted free agent with 58 career passes on his résumé stopped Young.

"I've got you, bro," Heinicke told him. "This is what I do."

He led one touchdown drive and another drive that fell just short in a 20-13 loss to Carolina. And as Washington (6-9) gets ready for a season finale at the Eagles on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) in Philadelphia, where a win would clinch the NFC East title, there's one truth to know about Heinicke: He'll be prepared.

Whether he plays remains to be seen. But if Alex Smith can't start, Heinicke must be ready. Despite his recent arrival in Washington on Dec. 8, the coaches deemed him more reliable in this situation than Dwayne Haskins, who was released Monday.

Heinicke first went to Old Dominion in 2011 as an engineering major, and when Washington called, he was taking four classes: Mathematics in Nature, Number Theory and Discrete Mathematics, Applied Numerical Methods and Partial Differential Equations.

After he became a starter for ODU his freshman year, the Monarchs implemented an Air Raid offense, spreading the field. He said they had 12 pass plays, but the call was dependent on him reading the defense.

"I coached quarterbacks 32 years; I've only had one five-read guy, and that was Taylor," former ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. "He could go 1 through 5 in 2.6 seconds because of his ability to do one or two pre-snap reads and then get into the play."

Wilder said he'd tell Heinicke, "'Your teammates [have] to look at you and feel organized and motivated.' Those guys got energy from him."

Young felt it in the Carolina game.

"He's got some swag," he said.

Here's what else you need to know about a player who might decide the NFC East:

Patrick Mahomes broke his record

On Sept. 22, 2012, Heinicke established a new NCAA record (all divisions) for passing yards, throwing for 730 and five touchdowns during a 64-61 ODU win against New Hampshire. In 2014, Washington State's Connor Halliday threw for 734 yards, matched in 2016 by Texas Tech's Mahomes.

During that 2012 season, Heinicke threw for an FCS-record 5,076 yards -- knocking Alcorn State's Steve McNair (4,863) from the top spot. Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo fell 26 yards shy of Heinicke's mark in 2013; Eastern Washington's Gage Gubrud (5,160) set the new mark in 2016.

But for Heinicke's coach, other numbers mattered -- like 12 and 13. The former represents the number of come-from-behind wins Heinicke recorded at ODU; the latter represents his number of one-score victories. He threw for 132 touchdowns and ran for 22 more (he ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at his pro day).

"He was just used to winning," Wilder said.

Scott Turner's visit

When Turner was a Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach, he flew to Norfolk, Virginia, to meet with Heinicke shortly before the 2015 NFL draft. He was the only NFL coach to make that trip. Turner worked out Heinicke, put him on the board to diagram plays and talked ball. They went out to dinner that night.

"I just wanted to see him throw the ball and see how it came off his hand," Turner said. "He throws a nice ball. His issue was he's 6-foot, 200 pounds."

Which was about 25 pounds heavier than Heinicke was in high school. Minnesota signed him as an undrafted free agent. He spent two years with the Vikings under Turner and another one with Turner in Carolina.

Turner, Washington's offensive coordinator, likes that Heinicke understands his system and, as he showed last week, can operate it as a backup on short notice.

"You see him throw the ball on time. He has nice touch," Turner said. "He's a smart guy. We like how he played when the lights came on."

He cut his foot breaking into his own house

In 2016, nearly three weeks before Vikings' training camp was to begin, Heinicke and a friend went to see the movie "The Conjuring 2." When they returned, the house was locked and nobody was home. Heinicke did not have a key. So ...

"I'm trying to nudge the door a little," he told reporters that summer. "It was one of those double doors. I thought it just needed a little nudge.

"When I put my foot to the door, my foot kind of slipped and it went through a window. It was just kind of a freak accident."

Heinicke has fun

Jonathan Hayes, who coached the XFL's St. Louis BattleHawks, learned this fact during their first victory celebration in February. Heinicke, who did not play in any of St. Louis' five games, loves to spray seltzer.

"Those guys would ambush me," Hayes said. "That stuff burns. He would be popping those things and laughing, and it was contagious with all of them. He would start it. He'd spray me. The first time, I wasn't ready for it. But he would spray everyone. ... He was just a lot of fun to be around."

What Hayes also liked: Heinicke would quiz players on their assignments during offensive meetings. Because he had pro experience, he mentored the BattleHawks' starting quarterback, Jordan Ta'amu, in his first year of professional football.

"It allowed Taylor to keep his mind in it," Hayes said. "Even on game day, he'd come up to me and say, 'This is in his wheelhouse; this is what he does really well.'"

His father was a strong influence

Wilder first met Heinicke and his father, Brett, in the fall of 2010. Wilder visited their house in Atlanta on a Sunday afternoon; it was 4 p.m., and the Green Bay Packers -- the team the Heinickes rooted for -- were on the TV.

"He makes homemade brats, and we're gorging on brats, watching the game," Wilder said. "That's when I knew Taylor had everything in place. ... [Brett] is one of my all-time favorite dads. On Sundays after home games, Brett walked in with leftover brats, and the coaches would swarm like a pack of wolves. He was never overbearing or made suggestions. Just a really supportive guy."

Right before Christmas break in 2011, Brett died of a heart attack.

"I took after him; I emulated him; I tried to be just like him," Heinicke said in a 2014 interview with the Virginian-Pilot. He also showed a tattoo on his left arm with an angel reading scripture, a tribute to his father.

"I know he's watching," he told the Pilot. "I'd do anything for him to be here again."