SUWANEE — Taylor Heinicke no longer fits into his Collins Hill football jersey, a medium that doesn’t suit his bullked-up NFL frame.In addition to getting bigger — the 6-foot-1 quarterback now carries 225 pounds, roughly 25 more than his high school weight — he has gone on to bigger accomplishments since his record-breaking Collins Hill career, going from college star to pro quarterback.His alma mater took time Monday to celebrate Heinicke, his successful career and that slender No. 14 jersey.Collins Hill hosted its inaugural Taylor Heinicke Collins Hill Football Golf Tournament at Bear’s Best as a fundraiser for the high school program, and used the event to toast the Eagles’ most accomplished football alum by retiring his high school number.The Eagles presented Heinicke with his high school jersey in a large frame during a post-golf reception.“I never imagined this to happen, but it is a cool deal,” said Heinicke, a quarterback for the Washington Football Team. “You grow up wanting to be an NFL football player and you’re living your dream and you get rewarded with something like this. It’s something really cool. You see a lot of familiar faces, people I haven’t seen in five to 10 years come out and support. It’s pretty cool.”Collins Hill supporters, former players, family and friends packed into a Bear’s Best ballroom for the celebration, which featured an introduction speech from former Eagles head coach Kevin Reach about Heinicke.“I’m just so proud I had the opportunity to coach him,” Reach said.After playing a round of golf Monday, Heinicke was joined in the celebration by his mother, Diane Dodsworth, and his sister, Lauren McAndrew.“I’m just real proud, real proud of him,” Dodsworth said. “I’m very honored Collins Hill is presenting him with this award. I really appreciate it and I know he does too. … It just brings back memories of when he was in high school and watching him play, the team he played with. Everybody was so excited.”Those memories flooded back to Heinicke during the event. While others recalled his eye-popping high school numbers at Collins Hill, like his Gwinnett single-season records of 4,218 passing yards and 44 touchdowns on a 2010 Final Four team, he thought of his teammates.“It was a lot of fun because we grew up playing together,” Heinicke said of his high school teams. “A lot of high schools you have a lot of transfers come in here and there. Our senior class, we played together in football since 8 years old growing up. That was the coolest thing, playing with your best friends, going to battle with your best friends. I think that was the biggest thing out there, playing for each other.”Overlooked by college recruiters, in large part because he didn’t have prototypical quarterback height, Heinicke left Collins Hill for Old Dominion, where he starred for four seasons and continued to break records. He finished his college career with almost 15,000 passing yards, 154 touchdowns and 32 school records. He won the 2012 Walter Payton Award (the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy) after throwing for 5,076 yards, including an FCS record 730 passing yards in one game.
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Despite those gaudy stats, Heinicke went undrafted by the NFL, then battled his way into the league. He spent time with the Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers, though he was rarely on firm footing because he was a quarterback just trying to stick on the roster. He was cut by the Panthers prior to the 2019 season and played in the XFL in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the league’s inaugural season.He caught a break last December when he was signed to Washington’s practice squad, reuniting with his former Carolina coach Ron Rivera. He was finishing up an engineering degree at Old Dominion at the time, but he put that on hold to sign with the NFL team.When Washington struggled in a Week 16 game against the Panthers, Heinicke provided a late-game spark with a 12-for-19 passing effort for 137 yards and a TD. The performance earned a start in Washington’s Wild Card Game against eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay.While that playoff debut was a 31-23 loss, Heinicke endeared himself to Washington fans and those watching the nationally televised game with a gutsy performance. He completed 26 of 44 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing for a diving TD just inside the pylon, a play that circulated widely on TV and social media highlights.Washington rewarded Heinicke in the offseason with a two-year, $4.75 million contract with $1.5 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac. It puts him in the most solid roster position of his NFL career.“That was the big thing this year,” Heinicke said of the contract. “The last five years I felt like I had one foot in the door and one foot out. I was always scratching my way in. I finally feel like I have both feet in. Not to say I’m comfortable, but I’m a lot more comfortable than previous years. It feels good. I’m not stressing as much. It’s a good deal. Just trying to keep this ball rolling.”He is a serious contender to start for Washington, which also no clear-cut starter with quarterbacks Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steven Montez on the roster.“The fact that I actually have a legit chance of starting is a pretty cool deal,” Heinicke said. “But again, just keep your head down, keep working hard and whatever happens, happens.”Heinicke, 28, has put in a great deal of offseason work on becoming stronger physically. He still lives locally in the offseason, working on his footwork and other skills with longtime trainer Earl Williams, while bulking up with weight work led by Joel Seedman of Suwanee-based Advanced Human Performance. He is listed on the Washington roster at 210 pounds, but has added 15 pounds of muscle since the end of last season.“I’ve been mostly down here,” he said of his offseason. “I bought a house in Flowery Branch. I want to be near my family. My sister’s about to have a baby, so I want to be here for her. As long as I’m in the NFL, I’ll be here training.”The training turns to serious on-field work in the coming weeks for Heinicke when he reports to Washington. The offseason has been enjoyable for a number of reasons, and Monday’s jersey retirement only added to it. While future Collins Hill golf tournaments won’t include his jersey ceremony, they will be played with Heinicke as the namesake.“I think it’s a great thing and I guess we’re going to do it every year,” he said of the tournament. “It’s good for the program.”