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August 20, 2012

Kelly wins starting nod for ASU opener

Asked about his plans to celebrate being named Arizona State's opening game starting quarterback by coach Todd Graham following Monday's practice, Taylor Kelly provided a little insight into how he was able to get the job in the first place.

"Probably just lay low, be at home and study," Kelly said.

A 6-foot-1, 203 pound sophomore, Kelly came out of Graham's first spring in Tempe running dead last in the three man race to replace current Denver Bronco Brock Osweiler as the Sun Devils' signal caller, but he was not deterred.

"It made me work even harder," said Kelly, who improved his footwork, arm strength and ability to get the ball out more quickly. "You're going to have adversity in life and I just took that and started working hard from there."

Kelly's off-season efforts paid dividends immediately in camp, as early favorite sophomore Mike Bercovici threw a number of interceptions in the first couple practices.

"When he came in the first four days of camp, he jumped out there," Graham said. "He was really, I think, playing at a different level and moved up in a hurry. Because I'm being honest with you, when we came in (to camp) I thought it was Bercovici, (redshirt freshman Michael) Eubank and then Kelly but he moved up in a hurry and then just stayed there. He never moved back."

Though he may have overtaken his competitors, the race is far from over, with Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell telling their players the razor's edge that separates the three men is nearly indistinguishable, and Eubank will also get extensive game snaps in the August 30 opener against Northern Arizona.

"It was extremely tough," Norvell said. "I've never been around anything like it almost at any position and that's the thing that's crazy. And then you go to the quarterback position where there's only one guy that can take a snap at a time and to have the three guys we have, the type of character, the work ethic, it's a great thing to have and a fun thing to coach but boy it makes that decision extremely tough. It was extremely close."

Among the things that contributed to Monday's decision, Graham said, was Kelly's ball security and improvement in the technical things that were asked of him over the last four months.

"Taylor has been very consistent," Norvell said. "We challenged Taylor after spring ball with things he had to get better at and he answered the call. He went out this summer, worked his tail off, came back in and really did a great job of being on time in the intermediate passing game. If you watched the scrimmage or any practices last week, the improvement he's had in the vertical passing game has been unbelievable. I'm really proud of him on that and he's been very consistent. He's protected the football and done a great job putting us in position to make big plays."

Eubank knows he's very much still in the conversation, suggesting Saturday following the team's camp-ending scrimmage at Camp Tontozona that he's been told he'll get as many as 50-60 snaps in the opener, which would be a majority of the reps. Monday he backtracked from that a bit, but it's clear from comments made by Graham -- who called Eubank's potential enormous following the spring and echoed that sentiment Monday -- and Norvell that he's going to play a lot and have his opportunity.

"He told me I'll be in and I'll be definitely be playing a significant number of snaps," Eubank said of his dialogue with Norvell Monday. "I'll let him put a number on it but he said I'll be in significant."

Bercovici rebounded from a reduced number of practice reps last week with some of his best practices and said he has no intention to do anything other than maintain total focus on his goal of becoming ASU's starter at some point.

"[Norvell] still feels I help this team a lot. He thinks that it's all going to work out personally and I do too, however it may happen. I truly feel like I could end up being on the field this year. I feel like I have the leadership qualities that can take this team to a Rose Bowl and I honestly believe that and that's basically what coach has been telling me and to make sure I come out here with the same mindset, that it doesn't change."

With only three ASU scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and the near photo finish at camp's conclusion, Norvell said he's been proud of how Bercovici responded and there's no telling what could happen down the road.

"Mike Bercovici is a champion," Norvell said. "It's like I was telling y'all and coach Graham said, it was one of the closest decisions we've ever had to make at any position and last week his reps got cut and you see how he responded, he went out there in the scrimmage and played his tail off. I think Mike Bercovici can win us football games here at ASU, If the opportunity presents itself, he's going to be ready and he's responded like you'd want your son to respond when adversity has come up. He went out there today and had a really good practice and he's going to keep pushing and keep battling and these guys know there's no room. You've got to bring your A-Game every day."

Graham agreed.

"It's far from over because there's a very thin line between all three of them," he said.

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