This was going to be a year where Lincoln Southwest's Tay Bender was the quarterback.
It's not like he wasn't before, but this was going to be a year where that's all he was. If he was absolutely needed on defense, he'd play. But outside of that, it was under center for him for the entire season.
The year came with mixed results.
As you might figure, Bender started off a little shaky as the offense was getting to know each other, and people were just trying to gel. Along with everything else the team had to figure out about itself, learning came the hard way early as Southwest dropped the first two of the season before notching a 37-0 win over Lincoln East.
It was progress. And as Bender recalled, it was just a process, too.
"I was learning the offense, understanding things better and everyone was trying to get on the same page," he said. "There is a lot more studying than you would ever imagine, and it just took time to adjust."
After losing three of their first four, Southwest went on a four-game winning streak. During that streak Bender started the contest against Kearney completing his first seven passes, only a couple shy of the Class A state record for most consecutive completions to start a game. And it was two games later in a loss to Millard South where Bender threw for 287 yards, which you might be surprised to find out is the most yards ever thrown for in a game in Class A.
"Yeah, I was really surprised about that. I mean, you'd think a team would just get hot at some point in the passing game and go over 300. But that never happened," said Bender, who from the start of that winning streak, finished throwing 55 percent of his balls complete, throwing for almost 850 yards as well as having a quarterback rating above 100 in four out of his last five games. Bender also finished second on the team in rushing, notching almost 800 yards as well as scoring five rushing touchdowns.
Speaking of records, Tay had a 52-yard field goal this last year, which ties the longest in Class A history. And he said he had a 56-yard attempt bounce off the upright.
With so many things to do and being so accomplished in so many areas, you could probably see why it was hard for Bender to adjust to trying to do just one thing. And as he learned the hard way, it was hard not to want to do it as well as he could the instant he hit the field at the start of the year. "I forced balls. I tried to make something happen too much. I just didn't think before I threw the ball sometimes," he said. "I had to learn to settle down, let plays develop and be more patient about what I was supposed to do. Once I did that, things really started to develop for the entire offense."
Bender at least year's Elite 11 Camp
With those lessons firmly in his mind, Bender said that all he can think about is getting back on the field, and going at it for another year. He had a brief chance to do that in a combine atmosphere this month as he was invited to participate in the 2010 U.S. Army All-American Junior Combine.
It's always a big event, but Bender remembers this experience as perhaps being a bit too big. "I think they just invited too many people. I mean, there were like 30 quarterbacks and I know I got to throw only 12 passes the entire thing," he said. "But I completed all but three, so I guess it went OK."
What was a lot more than "OK" were the numbers Bender put up when it came to the performance drills. 4.49 hand held 40, 4.65 by laser, a 38-inch vertical and a 4.4 agility run.
Talk about athleticism. For a guy 6-3, those kinds of numbers make coaches drool.
But not necessarily as a quarterback.
You can imagine that a host of schools would want him to join their team as an athlete, and they would have the luxury of knowing that wherever they put him, he'd probably be pretty darn good. The letters he already has up to this point are from all over as Bender says he gets a lot from Nebraska, of course, but LSU as well along with a bunch of others. "I'm getting them from Cal, UCLA, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Rutgers and some others," he said.
But if you are going to recruit him as something other than a quarterback, Bender stresses that it would be a waste of your time as well as his. "I'm a quarterback. That's my mind-set. That's what I want to do," he said. "I have played the position my whole life, and I am going to camps for it. I am also going back to the Jeff Tricke Camp, which I have gone to for years now, and I have gotten better after each one I have been too," he said. "And he worked with Aaron Rogers, so I'd say he knows what he's doing."
Nebraska is recruiting Bender, of course. But at this point it has been as an athlete and not a quarterback. Of course, the Huskers recruited Taylor Martinez to play defense, and he's now Nebraska's number one guy under center.
With the change in the Husker offense, you'd think that what they are doing now really starts to get into the realm that Bender likes. It does to an extent, but Tay said there are a couple of other offenses which fit him a bit better. "I think Oregon and Auburn have two offenses which I think fit what I do. I have the ability to run, but I am going to look for that pass long before I decide to just tuck it and go," he said. "I think I am pretty good rolling out and throwing on the run, which is something both of those offenses do."
There is obviously a lot of time between now and when Bender is going to really start focusing on recruiting. There's no point in getting all caught up in it right now, especially when Bender has changed everything to focus on getting better at the sport he loves. "I decided I wasn't going to play basketball. I wasn't going to do anything outside of working on whatever I had to, to get better at playing quarterback. That's where all my focus is right now," Bender said. "This off season is about getting better, and I know by the time the next season rolls around, we'll have an offense that will be pretty excited to play."
As for Bender's recruitment, he's not thinking about that outside of looking at letters as they come in. But beyond that he's thinking about what he's doing in the future and not where he's going. "It's all about our team and doing better than we did. And I think we are going to have a really good team this year," he said. We have some guys to replace on the offensive line, but almost everyone else on the offense comes back. So, we are really excited about the year."