Provo • Sophomore receiver Ross Apo had a right to be angry, disappointed and even bitter last December when BYU quarterback Jake Heaps delivered the stunning news that he was transferring to Kansas.
"It definitely hurt," Apo said Wednesday as the Cougars continued preparations for the opener next week against Washington State. "It was kind of tough to handle, at first."
After all, Apo had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Heaps at that infamous news conference at Iggy's Sports Grill in Salt Lake City on June 4, 2009, when the highly recruited high school stars announced they were committing to BYU, along with linebacker Zac Stout.
Upon arriving in Provo the following summer, Heaps and Apo spent countless hours playing catch, strengthening a bond that was first formed when Heaps began phoning Apo in Texas in early 2009, urging Apo to decommit from Texas and join him at BYU.
Apo suffered an open dislocation of his left index finger after BYU's first game in 2010, forcing him to sit out the rest of the season. But in 2011, when Heaps began the season as the unquestioned starter before being replaced by Riley Nelson during the Utah State game and most of the games thereafter the tight bond between Heaps and Apo was apparent.
In the seven games where Heaps was the primary quarterback, Apo caught 20 passes for 240 yards and six touchdowns. In the six games where Nelson was the main QB (San Jose State, Oregon State, Idaho State, TCU, Hawaii and Tulsa), Apo caught just 14 passes for 213 yards and three TDs.
"I had such good rapport with Jake," Apo said. "It took a while to get the same thing going with Riley."
However, Apo said he has come to grips with Heaps' departure, saying the No. 1 prep quarterback in the nation, according to some recruiting services, "did what he thought was best for him," and is seemingly happy at Kansas. The two still keep in touch through Twitter, Facebook and texting, and they exchanged texts just the other day when fall camps ended at their respective schools.
"I had to start getting over [Heaps' demotion and subsequent departure] when Riley took over, because if I had dwelled on that, it would have been bad," Apo said. "It was hard to switch over. I was used to catching balls from Jake, and knowing exactly where the ball was going to be. But coach [Brandon] Doman stepped in and told us all we simply had to adjust. And that's what we did."
After catching three TD passes from Heaps in the first three games of 2011, Apo caught just one TD pass from Nelson (against Idaho State) in a five-game stretch. When Heaps relieved an injured Nelson for the Idaho and New Mexico State games, he promptly threw three TD passes to Apo.
The native of Arlington, Texas, who now lives with his mother, Marianne Fa, in Orem, says he never considered jumping ship when Heaps did.
"I am definitely happy here at BYU," he said. "I didn't choose this school because of Jake. I had a good relationship with all the coaches here. Every time I came, it was just a happy environment and I was happy to be here. I wouldn't change anything from when I first committed to BYU."
The Nelson-Apo connection finally clicked against Hawaii, as Apo caught four passes for 55 yards and two TDs, but then Apo went without a catch in the bowl game.
"Riley had a really good relationship with Cody Hoffman [his roommate], and you saw that chemistry develop," Doman said. "Hopefully this year, that chemistry has been built between the three of them, and we will see an increase in Ross' production."
Apo says it has.
"It will be way better," he said. "I know I will get a lot more passes this year from him, and it is my job to make him trust me as a receiver."
Having undergone offseason shoulder surgery, Apo didn't participate in the two scrimmages during camp and has only recently been integrated into contact drills at practice. He expects to be close to 100 percent against Washington State.
"My biggest goal for this year is to stay healthy, first of all," he said. "I just want to catch more touchdown passes than I did last year. So that's more than nine. And then I want to get more than 1,000 receiving yards. That has always been my goal, since I was in high school."
Ross Apo in 2011
With Jake Heaps as primary quarterback:
Games Rec. Yds. TDs
7 20 240 6
With Riley Nelson as primary quarterback:
Games Rec. Yds. TDs
6 14 213 3