Kragthorpe: Heaps BYU's next rock star?
While his quarterback was upstairs during rounds of radio and television interviews, BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman dished about Jake Heaps.
This is what Doman said: "People think Jake's better than Jake is right now."
Doman followed those cautionary words by promising that if Heaps learns to work on his game the way his buddy Jimmer Fredette did in college, "then he will become the best quarterback in the country. I don't shy away from saying that."
Doman's mixed message, as delivered in the BYU broadcast center last week during the Cougars' media day, is not news to Heaps. It is well received by the sophomore QB, who knows what is expected of BYU quarterbacks.
So this is the state of Jake Heaps, as of July 2011: He just turned 20, he's newly married, he's started many more games (10) than any BYU quarterback at this stage of his career and he's about to launch the Cougars into independence.
Oh, and he's talking about winning a national championship someday. Other than that, there's absolutely no pressure on this guy.
At a comparable point, Fredette was about to become a first-time starter for BYU's basketball team, with Jimmermania the furthest thing from the mind of anyone on this campus. The end of that phenomenon created a vacancy that Heaps is prepared to fill, having witnessed Fredette's demeanor amid everything.
"If that comes along, I would hope I'd handle it as well as he did," Heaps said. "Me and Jimmer kind of have the same personality: just kind of a humble, laid-back kind of guy."
And supremely confident at the same time, which is fine with Doman, who coached quarterbacks for six seasons while Robert Anae coordinated the offense. Doman likes working with a QB who tossed a football through a basketball hoop from 10 rows up at the Marriott Center in a promotional video, then turned to the camera and said, "You think Jimmer's got range ..."
So the immediate issue is how much Heaps will grow in his second season. While insisting there's much more to be learned, Doman knows Heaps is far beyond where he was as a freshman, with more ability to recognize defenses, make good decisions and lead the team.
"He's only 20 years old, but he's been through a lot," Doman said. "This environment for a quarterback will age a young man. To stay grounded and do it the right way creates a unique maturity, and that's what we're seeing in Jake right now."
This is all different, to be sure. In this era of college football, unlike the days of Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon or Steve Young, there's no break-in period for young quarterbacks. Not even Ty Detmer, who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior, played anywhere near as much as a redshirt freshman as Heaps did in his first year of college.
If anything, Doman intends to simplify some elements of the offense, giving Heaps easier throws. That should increase his 57 percent completion rate, while continuing the momentum Heaps generated in the last six games of 2010 (with five victories and a one-point loss to Utah).
In June, Heaps married Brooke Shaw. Her father, Gary, was an outstanding defensive back for BYU coach LaVell Edwards' first conference title team in 1974. Marrying an ex-Cougar's daughter named Brooke worked for Austin Collie, whose wife helped him learn the Indianapolis Colts' playbook as a rookie on his way to the Super Bowl.
Having not served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Heaps views being BYU's quarterback as his visible platform to advance the cause. That approach worked for quarterbacks such as Nielsen, Wilson and Young in addition to Fredette.
Whether Jake becomes anything resembling the next Jimmer is subject to debate, but Doman is willing to imagine the possibilities.
"Let's just say Jake were to become the best college football player," Doman said. "Then, I have to tell you, [the response] would be almost double. The exposure and the attention and everything."
First, though, comes the performance on the field. Heaps has set himself up to be celebrated or criticized. Either way, he will be scrutinized.
A Heaps of numbers
How Jake Heaps' 2010 passing statistics compare with other sophomores on the 2011 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award watch list:
Player, school Pct. Yds. TD
Corey Robinson, Troy 63.5 3,726 28
Aaron Murray, Georgia 61.1 3,049 24
Danny O'Brien, Maryland 56.9 2,438 22
Jake Heaps, BYU 57.0 2,316 15
Jeff Godfrey, UCF 66.8 2,159 13
Tyler Bray, Tennessee 55.8 1,849 18
Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois 58.7 1,825 17
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska 59.1 1,631 10
How Jake Heaps' 2010 passing statistics compare with other freshmen in BYU history:
Player, year Pct. Yds. TD
Jake Heaps, 2010 57.0 2,316 15
Matt Berry, 2002 58.7 1,309 7
Ty Detmer, 1988 54.2 1,252 13
John Beck, 2003 50.3 864 5
Jake Heaps' per-game averages for the first eight games of 2010, compared with the last five games:
Games Comp. Att. Pct. Yds.
1-8 15.0 28.7 .522 139.6
9-13 19.8 30.8 .642 251.8