There have been some great quarterbacks in BYU’s storied football history, including NFL legends Steve Young and Jim McMahon, which lends itself well to the school’s unofficial nickname “Quarterback U.”
The latest in the line of succession of Cougar quarterbacks is Jake Heaps. Coming out of high school in Washington, Heaps was the No. 1-rated quarterback in the country and chose BYU in part because of its rich history of producing signal callers.
“There have been a lot of great quarterbacks that have come out of here, and to be a part of this tradition is really a blessing and I really wanted to be a part of that,” Heaps said.
However, the tradition that comes with being a BYU quarterback brings high expectations. Those expectations, coupled with Heap’s hype coming in, places a lot of pressure on his shoulders.
That pressure mounted early in his freshman year, as he was thrust into a quarterback competition in camp for the starting job with Riley Nelson. In the end, head coach Bronco Mendenhall went with the controversial decision to use a two quarterback system, to utilize the dual-threat talents of Nelson and Heaps’ pro-style abilities to the
This solution was frustrating to Heaps, especially after being the go-to-guy in high school for so long, leading his team to three state titles and being so highly touted coming into BYU.
“It was definitely a humble pill to take, to go from being the man to having to split time.” Heaps said. “It was definitely difficult, but I learned a lot and would not give the experience I gained my first year back for anything.”
The experiment ended rather quickly, however, after Nelson was injured in an early season game against Florida State. This gave Heaps the opportunity to grab the spotlight. He struggled with it at first, as the team went 1-3 in his first starts as the full time signal caller.
“When I took over we were starting from scratch on developing the offense to scheme around me and what my strengths are, and in the first half you really saw us struggle offensively to find our chemistry,” he said.
However, as Heaps grew more comfortable leading the offense and the team around him, they started winning. Finishing the season on a 5-1 run, capping it off with a 52-24 thumping of UTEP in their bowl game, in which Heaps was named the MVP.
That final string of victories last season gave Heaps real confidence in his ability to not only play but to lead at the Division-1 level.
“It built some huge confidence in me to show I can come out here and play with these guys,” Heaps said. “That was a rough season but there were a lot of positives to take out of the way we finished.”
Heaps went into the offseason and worked hard, focusing on footwork and mechanics and watching film. Between that work ethic and his full year of experience, many around the program are saying he has a new level of maturity around him.
But he would argue it wasn’t so much a change in him, but rather in others adjusting to being around him and getting to know his personality.
“It was a tough situation to come into being a highly touted recruit coming in, guys had a prejudgment of who I was and what I was about before I met them,” Heaps said. “But as they slowly got to be around me they got to know who I was. So really I didn’t change a whole lot it’s just the maturity factor of getting more game reps and guys being around me and getting to know who I am is the difference.”
The confidence and maturity that he had gained through his freshman year came in handy against Ole Miss, Week 1. The offense was stagnant in the first half, but he was to rally the team in the second half, getting them to start moving the ball — something that might not have happened in his freshman year.
Heaps will now look to lead his Cougars through an even tougher test in Austin, where he will face a talented Texas defense that will force him to put to use what he has learned through his first year.
However if they can get past the Longhorns on Saturday, he feels that the game could be a springboard to reaching their goal of BCS game.
“Our goal is to get to a BCS game for sure, that’s what we have our eyes set on; but right now we’re just going to worry about Texas,” Heaps said.
If he can manage to help bring BYU to a BCS game, the hype over Heaps might explode past former Cougar basketball star, Jimmer Fredette levels. He is someone he finds himself compared to nowadays, thanks to their similar stature and success at their positions.
Although he admits he is far from being on Jimmer’s level as a player, he is honored by the comparisons.
“For me for those comparisons to be drawn, I’m far from that status, but I’m going to work my tail off to be at that level one day,” he said.