"That's what they told me when they recruited Taylor, that they were going to put the best kid on the field and they would put a system in place to fit the best kid," Joe Wardynksi, head coach at Wheaton (Ill.) North, told BSB.
It was that same thought, however, that had Wardynksi unsure that Graham had the best chance of being named the temporary replacement for Terrelle Pryor this fall as the incumbent starter sat out the first five games of the season. Graham was one of four candidates to keep the seat warm for the senior, who had been promised his job upon his return.
Now, after Pryor announced that he is leaving the program, Wardynksi said the complexion of the search for his replacement has changed.
"We thought back here in town that if it was just going to be five games that maybe they would try to play somebody who had a similar skill set to Terrelle Pryor so that when he came back it would be an easier transition," he said. "But now knowing that he won't be a part of things, maybe they would take the offense in a different direction."
A dual-threat option, Pryor closed his OSU career as the school's all-time leading rusher for a quarterback (2,164 yards) and sits fifth in passing annals (6,177 yards). Of the four players vying to become the starter, early enrollee Braxton Miller and sophomore Kenneth Guiton most closely resemble Pryor's skill set. Meanwhile, both Graham and fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman are better known as pocket passers.
Marlon Taplin, who served as Guiton's offensive coordinator at Houston Eisenhower and now holds down the same position at Houston C.E. King, said he has kept in close contact with his former player. Now that Guiton is fighting to be the starter, Taplin said things do not change for the former three-star prospect in the Scout.com rankings.
"I said, ‘Hey, you just keep working hard. Don't worry about who transfers in, who's getting drafted or whatever the case may be. All you have to do is keep working hard and doing what you're supposed to do to be successful and you'll be fine," Taplin said. "I think it's a great opportunity for him."
Bauserman was the only quarterback permitted to speak with reporters during spring practice. After the spring game, he said the chance to battle for the starting spot – even for only five games – was an improvement from entering the season with an entrenched starter blocking the path to playing time.
The senior also made his case to be the starter.
"I feel good about the spring," he said. "I feel good about what I did. I thought I made some strides. I felt I got better as a football player."
Coming out of spring practice, then-head coach Jim Tressel said he was hoping to see a starter emerge by the time the first week of fall camp was complete. Former OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel (2000-03) said that should only be part of the plan.
"I think you've really got to go into camp with two people," he said. "You've got to be giving those guys the lion's share of the reps because one of them is going to be your starter and the other one is going to be your backup."
Although he said he did not have a firm grasp on how each of the four candidates stacked up in off-the-field characteristics, Krenzel said two candidates had established themselves as the favorites in his mind following spring practice.
"I like what I see physically out of Graham," he said. "I think he's got a nice, live arm. He can sit in the pocket and distribute the ball and he moves around good enough. The other is obviously Braxton Miller's got a lot of hype and we saw some things of why he has that hype. I think there's a lot of potential there."
Ironically, Wardynksi said the OSU coaches had often compared Graham to Krenzel during his recruitment.
"They said, ‘If Taylor is our guy and he ends up being the best kid then we're going to look like we did when we had Craig Krenzel. If it's somebody else then maybe we'll do more of the spread/gun stuff that we've been doing recently,' " the coach said.
Miller is the popular pick because he arguably boasts the greatest upside among the candidates. During the spring, senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams said he saw shades of Pryor in the freshman but pointed to a learning curve ahead.
"Braxton is probably the same as far as Terrelle's scrambling abilities but when I'm rushing the passer I see him back there but hopefully I sack him and worry about it afterwards," he said. "I'm sure being a young guy like Braxton, it's a little different than high school, getting free all the time. I saw a game that he played and he was just running all over the field. He'll get the hang of it and feel a little bit more comfortable as he continues to take more reps."
However, whichever quarterback had landed the job for a maximum of five games might not have seen the offense tailored to his abilities as strongly as he will now with the potential for a full season looming.
Either way, Wardynksi said Graham would have approached things with the same attitude.
"Knowing Taylor, he was going to prepare the same way whether he was the starter or the fourth-string guy," he said. "That's just the way he does things. He's a very hard-working kid and a very bright kid."