One of the main topics of discussion during Jacksonville State's offseason, including the Gamecocks' football media day on Wednesday, has been what the team has planned at the quarterback position this fall after losing standout performer Eli Jenkins.
Head coach John Grass has a pair of redshirt juniors in Bryant Horn and Kendrick Doss, both of whom are considered front runners to see their share of time behind center, but don't discount Piedmont's Taylor Hayes from being in the quarterback mix.
"We're trying to figure out where he's going to play," Grass said of Hayes. "Right now we're starting him out at quarterback. He may move to defense. He may move somewhere else on offense. We'll just have to see how he progresses at practice. You never know."
Hayes isn't the prototypical 6-foot-plus size quarterback many college coaches drool over. He's listed at 5-11, 205 pounds in the Gamecock media guide, but Hayes more than makes up for that perceived lack-of-height in other areas.
Guiding a team to back-to-back state championships, earning the Most Valuable Player honor in both title games, and winning the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 3A Back of the Year in consecutive seasons doesn't happen by accident.
Grass only has to look at Horn's path to possibly see Hayes's future.
Both players are high school coaches' sons. Horn's father is current Benjamin Russell and former Clay County head coach Danny Horn. Hayes's father is former Piedmont coach Mike Hayes.
Both players worked their way into their respective quarterback positions. After sitting out as a redshirt freshman for the Gamecocks in 2014, Horn spent much of his time on defense as a linebacker and on special teams in 2015. He ended up as the Gamecocks' backup quarterback last season.
"Bryant's a great reflection of how much I know," Grass joked to the media on Wednesday. "From a redshirt freshman, he ends up starting on special teams. He played a few snaps at the linebacker position. He goes into the next spring and he's got a chance to probably play 20-25 snaps at linebacker. He's in the rotation. He was probably our special teams player-of-the-year-type of guy. He means that much to our special teams.
"We go into that spring. Eli has shoulder surgery and he's out, so we said 'Would you mind moving back to quarterback? I'm not saying you won't play linebacker, because you might.' We had a couple of guys who didn't get in until the summer, so instantly that first day he's a starter, and he never turned back. He was our backup guy all last year and got to play some. Never say never. He's proved me wrong for sure."
Early in his Piedmont varsity career, Hayes was known for his defensive ability at linebacker. His freshman and sophomore seasons, Hayes was an all-state selection as a linebacker, where he led the team in tackles both years.
Piedmont coach Steve Smith moved him to quarterback as a junior, and the rest is history.
Smith believes Hayes has what it takes to be the Gamecocks' signal caller at some point in his collegiate career.
"What Coach Grass and I talked about (during recruiting), and what he talked about with Taylor was Taylor Hayes is a quarterback," Smith said. "If you watched our seasons the last couple of years, he threw for 4,000 yards and around 40-45 touchdowns with only eight or nine interceptions. I've said this many times over, I've had some really good quarterbacks over the years who could really throw the football, and Taylor's right up there with the best of them. He can do a lot of things with his arm that he never really got the credit he deserved.
"Although being able to play multiple positions can probably help his chances getting on the field quicker, I still believe in my heart if he's given an equal opportunity to compete for the job at quarterback, we'll see him be the quarterback one day at Jacksonville State. How quickly that happens, whether it's his first year or his third year or whatever, I don't know. That's up to the coaching staff, but I do think he is a quarterback and not just a good football player playing quarterback."
Regardless of what happens with Hayes at JSU, Grass knows he has a talented player. It's just a matter of where to best utilize his talent.
"We love guys like Taylor who compete, and you can always find a place for guys like that on your football team," Grass said. "They may not be the tallest. They may not be the parameters and all that stuff, but we look more at how our guys compete than we do a lot of different things."
Smith believes it's only a matter of time before "Coach Grass and those guys at Jacksonville State will wind up seeing the exact same things in Taylor that we saw."
"When you see what makes that kid tick, you see what kind of competitive streak he's got in him, I think it would be very difficult for them to keep him off the field in some capacity," Smith said. "I firmly believe you'll see him trotting on the field as the quarterback at Jacksonville State. I'll be very surprised if that doesn't happen. I've got that much confidence in him."