In football, team success should always trump individual achievement.
It’s not always easy, but the best teams play together and work as a unit on both sides of the ball.
With that, let’s introduce Taylor Mitchell.
On most prep teams, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound quarterback would probably be behind center from the first snap of summer practice to the last game on the schedule.
But at Buford High School outside of Atlanta, Coach Jess Simpson had a little problem on his hands this past season.
Actually, it was a problem most coaches would love to have.
He had two stud QBs – Mitchell and fellow junior Montgomery Van Gorder.
We’ll let Mitchell explain the predicament.
“Going into last spring and throughout the summer, there was kind of a quarterback competition,” he said in a phone interview with NFA. “We were both going at it pretty hard and the coaches decided right before Week 1 that we were going to split time the first two weeks of the season and they’d try to make a decision.”
That’s when the quarterback competition really got interesting.
“We both played pretty good and things just sort of meshed and we ended up being pretty successful throughout the season,” Mitchell said. “So there was no need to change it. And the competition that was there at the beginning stayed there throughout the season.”
Buford, a perennial Class AAA powerhouse in Georgia, rolled into the state playoffs for the sixth year with Mitchell playing quarterback for one series, Van Gorder the next, Mitchell the next and so on.
Unusual, but effective. Very effective.
Both players finished the season with near identical statistics – nearly 1,000 yards throwing, 10 touchdowns for Mitchell and 11 TDs for Van Gorder.
Oh yeah, the Wolves won the state championship, their fourth title in five years.
And that’s really all that matters to Mitchell.
“There was some difficulty trying to prevent the team from having half the people bailing to one guy and half to the other, things like that,” Mitchell said. “But once we got there and got going, the team goal kicked in. I think it’s a matter of having the maturity to handle it. It’s hard, because you go 8-for-9 on a drive and you throw a touchdown and you get taken out the next drive and the offense stalls. That’s kind of tough to deal with, and it happened a couple times to both of us last year. But in the end, it worked out.”
Look for the rotation trend to continue when Mitchell and Van Gorder move into their season years next season.
“I would assume it’ll stay the same,” Mitchell said. “We were successful last year doing it, so I don’t think there’s going to be any reason to change. Last year, we built up the trust and the coaches know we both can be accountable and get the job done.”
To prepare for his senior season at Buford, Mitchell attended an NFA camp in Atlanta in February.
“Just being off for a month, they definitely helped me tune some things up,” Mitchell said. “Definitely, from the weight transfer perspective, they gave me some things to work on. They helped fine-tune some things like footwork, crispness and working on my drop.”
A straight-A student who hopes to play college football in the Ivy League, Mitchell’s smarts shine through on the field.
“I think my main strength, not even from a playing perspective, is being a presence in the huddle.” Mitchell said. “Kind of knowing how to be the leader out there and kind of knowing what everybody’s doing. Holding everybody accountable and keeping everybody straight.”
Mitchell, who played some varsity QB for the Wolves as a sophomore, also knows what he should be doing, and he plays the focal position at a high level.
“From a playing perspective, I think it’s being able to sit back and know exactly what needs to be accomplished at that certain time of the game,” Mitchell said. “Knowing we have to make a pass at the sticks and things like that. Knowing the situation, reading the defense, getting up there and going through pre-snap pretty quick.”
As he prepares for the next level – Mitchell plans to study business and industrial engineering in college – there is more work to be done.
“Right now, it’s just staying sharp with my technique,” he said. “And I’m working at getting stronger, just basic advancements in strength and speed. Staying crisp on mechanics, and I’m working on weight transfer. Coach (Will) Hewlett and Coach (Dub) Maddox and NFA, they were great helping me with that. Just keep going in the right direction.”
If Buford H.S. stays in the same direction next season, look for yet another state title from the Wolves.
“It wasn’t really ideal at the beginning of the season,” Mitchell said of Buford’s platoon system at quarterback. “But we were successful and we ended up making a run and we won the state championship. The end goal was winning state. It wasn’t as much about putting up stats or anything like that. It was being invested and getting the job done. And we ended up doing that.”