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By the time he had finished his high school career at Folsom High, Jake Browning had thrown for 16,775 yards and 229 touchdowns.
While he shared the same first name as his predecessor, Jake Jeffrey didn't have the same arm. But if others entering the 2015 season may have been wondering how Jeffrey, a senior quarterback, would stack up against Browning, that was never important to the one person who mattered: Troy Taylor, his head coach.
"He would always tell me, 'You're your own player. You're Jake Jeffrey, and I want you to play to your capability,' " he said. "It gave me a lot of confidence."
Jeffrey's capability turned out to be pretty good: He amassed 4,194 passing yards, 974 rushing yards and 61 total touchdowns as Folsom finished 14-1.
Named Utah's new offensive coordinator on Monday, the 48-year-old Taylor built a reputation for aggressive, high-scoring offenses at Folsom and gained some college credibility during a 2016 run at Eastern Washington. By his own admission, it's not revolutionary he has plucked pieces over the years from his West Coast background; from Urban Meyer's 2004 offense at Utah; from Mike Leach, Chip Kelly and Chris Petersen.
What makes Taylor's offense unique is the speed at which players make decisions. Particularly quarterbacks.
"The way it's been taught to the quarterback emphasizes functionality: being as dynamic as possible while being as simple as possible," said Kris Richardson, who coached with Taylor at Folsom for 13 years. "He's an incredible teacher, and that's why it's worked."
Taylor was a college assistant at both Cal and Colorado in the late '90s before deciding to move back to his hometown to raise his family. When Richardson talked him into coaching at Folsom in 2002, the need for the system arose when he realized his team had to come up with a way to bridge talent gaps against other programs.
As a college assistant, he said, he borrowed plays and concepts he liked. But as a high school coach, he began to gravitate to core schemes. What made good teams and good offenses good? High-tempo systems that emphasized quarterback play.
Instead of looking for the right quarterback for his offense, Taylor began to sculpt an offense that any quarterback would be able to run.
"We want it to be like an iPhone it's a computer, it's a complex piece of machinery that does complex things," Taylor said. "But I don't need to know that much about computers to use it."
Tempo was a big part of that. Taylor and Richardson aimed to speed the offense up; during practice, a siren went off 13 seconds after the end of each play. If the offense hadn't lined up and gotten the snap off, the coaches added laps after practice.
Speed meant vanilla defense: Opponents couldn't afford to sub out, and they'd go for less exotic packages which made for easier reads. A lot of snaps also wore opponents out, meaning Folsom could rack up points late. Even in the state section championship against fellow Sacramento powerhouse Grant in 2014, the Pacers who had beaten Folsom earlier in the year tired out.
"They were tapping their helmets to come out in like the second quarter," Jeffrey said. "That happened just about every game."
But Taylor also has a way of coaching reads that are easy for the quarterback at least Jeffrey found that to be true. The Bulldogs almost always had four receivers on the field, all with route options and some ability to improvise. Jeffrey had to make pre-snap reads, but he was seldom recognizing defensive schemes as much as he was reading where the openings would be.
"It was the progression you were doing: You have a good idea of who is going to be opening up," he said. "If it's one-on-one, take that. But if your first read isn't free, you know exactly where to look to find the next guy open. I'm not thinking about spreading it around or attacking different places, I just know where to look."
That stems from the hours Taylor spent drawing up plays during his lunch period and other idle times. On a given snap, he spaces out the receivers to the point where the defense can't cover everybody, then scripts the quarterback to look to certain points first.
And for those who believe that means the end of power running at Utah, Richardson wouldn't say that: The Bulldogs did zone concepts, but also power runs and options that freed up space downfield. In Browning's senior year, when the team had three linemen who would go on to play Division I football, Richardson said: "We could do it all, and we had that thing down to 12 seconds between snaps."
Taylor also hasn't had much compunction about assigning who runs routes where. While he does have physical traits he looks for at each receiving position, he prefers to move receivers around in the same formation, trading roles and potentially putting the defense off guard.
"The formations never really change, but where the personnel is going to be does," Richardson said. "We developed ways to call formations that guys knew how to line up quick and keep going. We didn't line guys up in the same spot time after time."
It's worth noting that the concepts that took hold at the high school level were also successful in his one season at Eastern Washington. Taylor took the nation's No. 1 passing offense the year prior and threw for about 50 more yards per game (401 ypg) while scoring about 8 more points per game (42.4 ppg) running his system. Quarterback Gage Gubrud had seven of the top 15 records for total offense in a single game while also ranking third in passing efficiency rating (166). Three receivers went over the 1,000-yard mark.
Does it have drawbacks? Sure. The defense will be on the field more: Eastern Washington took 1,062 snaps last season, while opponents took 1,061. Against more athletic, more agile defenders, Jeffrey said, Folsom lost in the state playoffs in 2015.
Mike Alberghini, a longtime coach at Grant High School who has seen recruits go to Utah and was part of multiple clashes with Taylor, sees it as a cultural shift. Utah's mode of ball control and field position doesn't exactly jive with the memory of a Folsom team that always pushed it as far as it could.
"When they had their program together, they took no prisoners and attacked the whole time a very precise offense," Albergini said. "Where I've seen Utah, they're not one of those gunslinger-type teams. We'll see where it goes."
One thing Alberghini acknowledges: You'll be hard pressed to find a harder working coordinator. Taylor would start camps at 6:30 a.m. for his players or would-be passers at his academy. Jeffrey said he rarely stopped drawing up new plays, or watching film: He's obsessed with learning the next new thing and seeing if it's a fit.
Which is why they're all excited to see if Taylor, putting his long distilled system into place at Utah, will succeed at the Power 5 level.
"He's an extremely intelligent offensive mind one of the best guys I've ever been around," Richardson said. "There was not a doubt when he told me it was time."
About the offense
New Utes offensive coordinator Troy Taylor is importing a spread system with some distinct qualities:
Simple QB reads • The quarterback doesn't have to recognize overall coverage, only specific reads to tell him whether an individual receiver is open or not.
Sets with many receivers • Most of Taylor's offenses have had four receivers or more, or have put backs and tight ends out wide, giving a wider array of routes and forcing the defense to spread.
No-huddle tempo • At Folsom High, the team tried to run plays with only 13 seconds or less of clock runoff in between snaps.
Versatile run game • Many of Taylor's offenses have featured dual-threat quarterbacks who can run, while offensive line talent helps add other elements of power, counter and inside runs.