PLANT CITY — The Tampa Bay Vipers were bumped from Plant City Stadium on Thursday afternoon. Later on, St. Clement Catholic Church would be staging the Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival. Organizers needed the field.
As far as logistical hurdles go, this was nothing for the XFL team. Less than two weeks ago, it managed to transport about 70 football players from across the country, house them, feed them and outfit them.
So the Vipers held their first-ever full-speed practice on an adjacent field instead. The offense, wearing green, squared off against the defense, wearing white. The four quarterbacks wore red “no-contact” jerseys.
One quarterback — No. 11, Aaron Murray (Plant High) — lined up under center. The other three — No. 4, No. 14 and No. 9 — lined up in a row about 15 yards behind him. They pretended as if they, too, were about to take the snap.
No. 4 is Taylor Cornelius. He’s used to waiting.
Cornelius enrolled at Oklahoma State in 2014. He didn’t get the chance to start until 2018. He seized the opportunity, leading the Cowboys to a 58-17 win over the Missouri State Bears in his debut. He finished the season with 3,978 passing yards (fifth most in program history) and 32 touchdowns (fourth most). Along the way, he outdueled future NFL draft picks Will Grier and Drew Lock and came within a pass of upsetting Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma Sooners in the Bedlam Series.
His poise and performance in those games caught the eye of Vipers coach Marc Trestman and led to his selection in the skill players phase of the XFL draft in October.
“He played in some high-pressure, high-level games against great quarterbacks, and he was an iceman,” Trestman said. “He’s got great feet. He’s got a big strong arm. And he’s got a high football IQ. Watching him play, all you can say is ‘I would love to coach that guy.’”
The Tampa Bay Times met with Cornelius after practice and asked him for his take on the XFL, Trestman and the Vipers quarterback competition.
What was it like to finally be out on the practice field and taking real reps?
We’ve been out here for 10 days now, and we haven’t gone full speed against each other, so it was fun just to strap on the helmets and throw it around some.
A lot of the players here are meeting each other for the first time. What has that experience been like for you?
You spend enough time with a bunch of guys in the locker room, 12-plus-hour days, you’re going to become friends. We’re already joking around and stuff like that.
Who’s your roommate? What kind of rapport do you have? Did you know each other?
Colin Thompson, tight end. We had no idea who each other was. We actually met the day we got here, in one of the training rooms. We sat next to each other, went back to our rooms and just happened to be roommates. He’s been great. Real smart, intellectual guy. Fun to be around.
What was your reaction when you found out the Vipers drafted you?
It was a relief. I thought I was going to be in the NFL, and that didn’t work out. I went to a couple of different camps, and it was a waiting game for months. I’m glad the XFL was here to give me the opportunity.
You had to wait your turn at Oklahoma State, and here you are again, fighting to stand out. What’s your mindset?
There’s good competition in the quarterback room. I think we’ve got a good group of guys in there. Everyone’s battling for this spot, and Trestman has said no one’s given anything. So we’re all coming in and fighting for it, and we’ll see what happens.
How would you describe Trestman’s leadership style? How does he compare with other coaches you’ve worked with?
He’s very caring, a real personable guy. He knew all about me before we even talked. He did his research for sure. He gets to know you on a personal level, more so than other coaches.
Who has the better hair: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy or Trestman?
You have to go with the mullet, but Trestman’s got great locks, too. I think Gundy takes a little more pride in his.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.