TEMPE, Ariz. Taylor Kelly was about eight when he started working on his grandparents ranch, fixing fences, moving pipes and driving cattle eight, sometimes 10 hours a day.
Adversity was a daily occurrence out on the ranch, whether it was the rough weather of western Idaho, power outages or just trying to figure out where you were in the middle of nowhere.
Those early, hard-working days helped shape Kelly, both as a person and a football player.
Nimble, humble and at his best under pressure, Kelly has become the unquestioned leader of the Arizona State Sun Devils, a notion that seemed like a longshot not all that long ago.
My grandpa taught me how to work and that you never take anything for granted, you do your best in everything that you do, said Kelly, who grew up in Eagle, just northwest of Boise. You do face adversity up there and I think facing that adversity helped me as I grew up.
Kelly has faced plenty in becoming the starting quarterback at Arizona State.
With the departure of Brock Osweiler to the NFL, the Sun Devils were left without a quarterback who had started a college game. From the start of spring all the way until just before the first game, it was a three-way competition between Kelly, Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici to see who would get the nod.
Kelly was almost always the third wheel; Bercovici had the better arm, Eubank the better upside. Even when coach Todd Graham announced Kelly as the opening-game starter, the perception that it was a short-term situation.
Kelly blew that out of the water from the first snap.
Dazzling with his arm and his legs, the sophomore threw for 247 yards and a touchdown against Northern Arizona in the opener and has seemingly gotten better with each game.
Kelly leads the Pac-12 and is ninth nationally with a passing efficiency of 182.2, completing 72 percent of his passes for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns while leading the Sun Devils to a 3-1 start.
More than the numbers is Kellys ability to make something out of nothing. Hes often been his best when plays break down, scrambling out of the pocket to get a big gain or getting his head up in time to see a receiver break free from a defender.
Even when he struggled against Missouri two weeks ago, Kelly found a way to make things happen, helping the Sun Devils storm back from a 17-point deficit in the second half before coming up just short.
That guy is a winner. How he conducts himself, how he carries himself, hes a winner, Graham said. Hes just got that it factor. You can look him in the eye on game day and see it.
Its been with Kelly since he was little.
Whether it was playing with the neighborhood kids or leading Eagle High School to the 2009 state championship, he always found a way to be his best when the pressure is the most.
It helped Kelly come on strong at the end of fall camp to beat out Eubank and Bercovici. It kept him from getting rattled when the Sun Devils fell into a big hole against Missouri. It allowed him bounce back from that loss with a stellar game against Utah last week, throwing for career-high 326 yards and three touchdowns in the 37-7 rout.
I just have that confidence in myself where if I need to step up and make a play I can, Kelly said. Ive had it since I was a kid.
The quarterback battle with Eubank and Bercovici was a perfect example of Kellys knack for rising to the moment.
Coming out of spring practice, Kelly was slated as the third quarterback, so he spent the summer lifting weights and working extra with his receivers to build arm strength.
Once fall camp started, Kelly caught the coaches attention with the strides he had made over the summer, forcing himself into the three-way conversation instead of being on the outskirts of it.
With Graham vacillating almost daily on who would be his starter, Kelly never let up, relying on that work ethic he learned back at the ranch to distinguish himself enough to get the job.
I came out every single day and had a chip on my shoulder, Kelly said. I just wanted to get better each day and couldnt let down, whether it was watching film or out at practice.
Those long hours of driving fence posts and cattle sure have paid off.