You're down 5 with a minute and a half to play. The ball's on your own 14-yard-line. You just let up a big sack and now it's 3rd-and-24. What's your play call?
For St. Peter's Prep head coach Rich Hansen, there's no trick play. There's no desperate attempt at a Hail Mary. There's really not even a sense of worry. It's simply "Tahj time."
"We're really not nervous," said Hansen. "'Tahj time' means there's a heightened sense of awareness and focus and we have all the confidence that he's going to make the decisions and do everything to advance the ball and win the game."
Future Hokie Tahj Bullock found himself in that situation in the third game of the season last year against nationally ranked Bergen Catholic. With all the poise and rhythm in the world, he stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike down the middle at the first down marker, which his receiver excalmated with a nice catch and run to midfield.
The drive continued.
Behind his arm, Bullock drove St. Peter's into the red zone with 30 seconds to go. Again, Bullock stepped up in the pocket and delivered a crisp throw on a hitch and go seam route for the 17 yard go ahead touchdown.
This wasn't the last time Bullock was the architect of a comeback victory for the Marauders.
Fast forward to late November at MetLife Stadium. St. Peter's is in the state title game against Don Bosco Prep. The Marauders were down 14-7 late in the 4th quarter and hadn't mustered up an offensive touchdown all game. No worry, it was Tahj time.
Bullock completed a few sharp throws to extend the drive, including a perfect toss on a 4th-and-2 tunnel screen. Ultimately, he capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run which brought the Marauders within one-point. They went for two, and Bullock made the correct option read to give on the jet sweep for the conversion and win.
"We had four games where we were down in the fourth quarter, including in the state championship game, and he engineered a comeback," said Hansen. "He's a fierce competitor. He plays through the bright lights and he plays through the snow and he's confident in what he's doing and he wants to be successful. The biggest thing for him is the guys around him believe in him."
"That's not a hope and that's not a dream. That's based on fact and his production and history. It takes a special guy to do that. Not physically as much as mentally. I think that's the key for him. He's really a mentally tough kid."
At the end of the season, Bullock completed 126 of 210 passes for 2,274 yards, had 480 rushing yards, 26 passing touchdowns and 6 rushing touchdowns.
It can't be overstated how valuable those experiences late in games have been for Bullock. Not only has he competed in one of the toughest divisions in high school football, New Jersey non-public Group 4. This division includes some of the best high school programs in the nation, including Notre Dame, Paramus Catholic, and the aforementioned Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic.
"When you're throwing against division one players every week, it makes a huge difference on growth and development, especially the mental part of the game," said Hansen. "The one thing that it does, our non-public schedule playing the competition we play, every week you better be up for it. Because people do things that are at a high level coverage wise and blitz wise. It forces you to be a student of the game, because you're not just going to do it physically because everybody's physically gifted."
The speed and complexity of the game jumps significantly from high school to college. This is an area in which most young quarterbacks struggle for a year or two as they grind away in practice. But according to Hansen, Bullock has a step up on most incoming freshmen in the mental nuances of the quarterback position.
"You're going against division one secondaries every week," said Hansen. "So, the window closes real quick and you better know what they're doing pre snap and you better understand what they're doing post snap and you better be timely or else you're going to make a lot of mistakes. So, it forced him to become, from a mental standpoint, a strong student of the game. And he is."
Bullock's mental fortitude has greatly improved over his time at St. Peter's. According to Hansen, much of that comes from watching his predecessor, current Naval Academy quarterback Maasai Maynor. And it doesn't just show up in the film room or during drills. Bullock's improvement in recognizing and deciphering coverages and blitz packages has resulted in wins on the field. But Bullock is so much more than just a student of the game.
"He's 6'4, 230 pounds right now and he can throw the ball from here to Connecticut," said Hansen. "Running the ball and all that stuff... Look, the dude looks like a linebacker or a d-end. It's freaky. You put all that mental fortitude with 6'4", 240 and a cannon arm and you've got a pretty complete package for a high school quarterback."
His film indicates he is a pass-first quarterback. Many times when his initial reads were not open, instead of taking off and running, he moved around in the pocket, kept the ball up and his eyes down field, and made the throw to a secondary receiver.
"We don't design too many runs for him throughout a game," said Hansen. "And when we do, my heart is in my throat I'm so nervous."
An area of improvement for Bullock that Hansen would like to see during his senior season is touch and control on mid range throws.
"Any strong arm kid always has to work on the touch on his throws and moderating his mid range game," said Hansen. "We'll continue to do that, continue to work through progressions and putting the ball where it needs to be."
That will be a heightened area of focus for Bullock in his early days as a Hokie. Much of Brad Cornelsen's passing and RPO scheme is reliant on being able to complete quick mid ranged throws either to the near sideline or in the middle of the field on a quick slant.
Bullock has impressed Hansen as much off the field as on the field. The two go hand and hand, and translates to football and Bullock's innate ability to lead a team in any situation.
"He is one of the most genuine, sincere, hard working, greatest kids character wise," said Hansen. "He is never going to embarrass that program [Virginia Tech]. He's never going to have people doubletake and question what kind character he has and what kind of person he is. And that translates to the field in terms of respect, and then when you couple it with all the physical things he can do, the kid is just so special."