Browning has remained close with Troy Taylor, his coach at Folsom High who is now in his first season as Utah's offensive coordinator.
They talk regularly. They chatted on the phone again Wednesday morning and, to paraphrase the conversation from Jake Browning’s point of view, the Washington quarterback wished his good friend Troy Taylor the worst of luck come Saturday night.
Under normal circumstance — shoot, in any other circumstance — Browning would hope for the best for Taylor, Browning’s high school coach who just happens to be in his first season as Utah’s offensive coordinator. That means Browning and Taylor will be rivals for the first time when the No. 16 Huskies (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) host the Utes (5-5, 2-5) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Husky Stadium.
“It’ll be strange,” Taylor said this week in a phone interview from Salt Lake City. “I’ll be peeking up from my call sheet while trying to organize the next series to see how he’s doing. He’s such a great person, such a great friend, and it’s weird to kind of root against him. Hopefully we score one more point than they do.”
Browning echoed those sentiments.
“I hope he calls all the wrong plays,” he said.
Browning was 10 years old when he first began attending Taylor’s passing academy in the Sacramento area.
Taylor, the co-head coach at Folsom High School, then appointed Browning as Folsom’s starting quarterback when Browning was a sophomore, and all Browning did in his first start was throw 10 touchdown passes. It was quite the team, those two, and under Taylor’s direction Browning threw a national-record 229 touchdown passes in three seasons, and they helped Folsom to a 16-0 season and a California state championship in 2014.
“That’s someone I’m really close with,” Browning said. “He’s been there for me for a large majority of my life.”
Taylor, who set school records as the quarterback at California in the late 1980s, was an assistant coach at Cal and Colorado for a handful of years in the ’90s before stepping away from the college ranks. He got back into college coaching last year, as the co-offensive coordinator at Eastern Washington, in part because of UW coach Chris Petersen. It was Petersen who called then-EWU coach Beau Baldwin to recommend Taylor.
“I remember Troy actually when he was a high school player,” Petersen said. “That’s how long I remember him. … So I’ve had a lot of respect for him for a long time. And I certainly see his imprint over that (Utah) offense. They’re an explosive offense.”
At Eastern Washington, Taylor called plays for the top-ranked passing offense in the FCS. Taylor had initially made the move to Cheney on his own, while his wife and three children stayed back in Folsom to sell the family’s home.
Browning went to Cheney to visit Taylor last year, and he laughed this week recalling the scene from the home Taylor rented there. Taylor is known to pour through two or three yellow legal pads a week, scribbling offensive formations and plays as fast as his hands will allow, and Browning said there were yellow papers scattered throughout the house. The only real furniture was a twin bed, covered by Taylor’s son’s Superman sheets, that he had plopped down in the dining room floor.
“I go in there and it looks like an insane asylum,” Browning said.
Taylor, indeed, has been called a mad scientist, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hired Taylor in January to find a formula that would turn around a Utes’ offense than has ranked among the worst passing outfits in the Pac-12 since Utah joined the conference in 2011. (Taylor is Whittingham’s eighth offensive coordinator in nine seasons.)
Taylor handed the starting QB job this season to sophomore Tyler Huntley — who beat out returning starter Troy Williams, the ex-Husky — and the results have been mixed. Huntley, a dynamic dual-threat, missed parts of three games with a shoulder injury, and the Utes rank 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring at 29.0 points per game.
“As long as we’re scoring points, we’re having a great time,” Taylor quipped.
Browning visited Taylor and his family in Salt Lake City earlier this year.
“He’s part of the family,” Taylor said. “Jake is just a different kid. He’s kind of an old soul. I spent a lot of time around teenagers and sometimes you’re like, ‘Come on, guys, give me a break. Get out of my office.’ But with Jake, it was never like that. Jake hung out with us a lot (at Folsom). Every lunch break, or any time he had free time, he wasn’t out talking to girls — he was in hanging with us watching football or talking football. It was very unusual, in a sense, for someone so young to become such a good friend.
“And our friendship’s just continued from there and grown. I’ve known him since he was 10, so I’ve watched him grow up. He’s always been pretty mature, and to see him continue to be the person he is and that he’s always been, it’s a real joy for our family to watch his success and root for him.”
That is, except for a few hours Saturday night at Husky Stadium.