Taylorsville • Jake Heaps is happy to have a good story to tell. That’s the part he enjoys, after having lived through the anguish of it.
“I just wanted to take all the experiences I had,” he said, “and give it to the next group of kids.” So in camps, clinics and private coaching of quarterbacks, including sessions this summer in Utah, he’s sharing what he learned.
The tale of his college football career hardly follows the script of 2010, when he became BYU’s starting quarterback as a freshman. He lost his job by the middle of his sophomore year and eventually transferred, first to Kansas and then to Miami, concluding his college career with 5,000 passing yards and a lot of unfulfilled promise.
He’s often asked about his multi-school path to the NFL, where he spent parts of three years as a fringe player. Heaps would do some things differently, given another chance. Regrets, though? Because of how these moves shaped and educated him, this is his answer: “It’s actually quite the opposite.”
Heaps’ career arc remains one of the most fascinating subjects I’ve covered, motivating me to check in with him in June as he worked some of Utah’s top high school quarterbacks. What struck me in replaying Heaps’ BYU tenure is how much his story resembles those of other QBs in the state’s recent history. The reality is that FBS quarterbacking careers never seem to end well around here. Not lately, anyway.
In the previous decade, Utah’s Brian Johnson and BYU’s Max Hall exited with major achievements and high approval ratings from their fan bases. Since then, 13 quarterbacks have started 10-plus games for Utah, BYU and Utah State. With the last chapter of Tanner Mangum’s BYU story to come, the other dozen have not finished college football in ideal fashion.
Utah’s Terrance Cain, Jon Hays and Troy Williams and USU’s Kent Myers lost their starting jobs. USU’s Darell Garretson transferred. BYU’s Riley Nelson and Taysom Hill and Utah’s Jordan Wynn were hurt. USU’s Diondre Borel and Chuckie Keeton had losing records as seniors and Utah’s Travis Wilson had detractors, despite winning.
So the challenge for Utah’s Tyler Huntley, USU’s Jordan Love and whoever wins BYU’s QB derby in August is to keep their jobs, start 30-plus games in college and depart as fan favorites.
All of that seemed likely for Heaps, after a freshman season of 2010 when he went 6-4 as a starter. As BYU launched independence, Heaps was positioned for big possibilities. “First-round [NFL] projections, Heisman hopes, all these things, right? They didn’t happen, not necessarily because I didn’t have the talent or ability to do it,” he said. “It was more [about not] being able to handle these situations that were presented to me. I just got smacked in the face with things I’d never faced before.”
Learning from Heaps’ BYU career requires examining two phases. First came the 2010 preseason competition with Nelson that ended in a tie, as they alternated series in a win over Washington. That was messy enough, with a divided locker room prior to Nelson’s shoulder injury. Then came the 2011 season’s upheaval, with Nelson replacing Heaps in the third quarter against Utah State in early October and salvaging a victory that enabled him to keep the job.
That two-year experience makes Heaps a composite character of BYU’s 2018 QB contestants: Mangum, Joe Critchlow, Beau Hoge and Zach Wilson. His advice revolves around this discovery: “What was really shocking to me was how easily I could hear the outside noise.”
Heaps would spend far less time “worrying about who’s saying what,” he said. “I was so worried about who was on my side, who wasn’t on my side … things that a normal 19-year-old kid would focus on, instead of just focusing on, ‘Hey, I’m going to be the best version of myself and I’m going to be so dang good that they just can’t deny me.’ ”
That’s basically what Heaps has done, in the latest phase of his life. At 27, he has built a career of coaching young players in the Russell Wilson Quarterback Academy, via an association that stems from his time with the Seattle Seahawks. The snapshot of his work one evening at Taylorsville High suggests he really good at this stuff. He made suggestions after every throw and met with the quarterbacks and their fathers after the session, offering more guidance.
His coaching style is “not transactional,” he said. He tries to build relationships and make an impact on and off the field, and he loves all of it.
I’ve always wondered why Heaps didn’t succeed at BYU and who was to blame. Yet seven years later, that’s almost irrelevant. His purpose in the game has come after college. Heaps’ time in Provo didn’t play out well, but that’s not where football fulfillment ended for him.
JAKE HEAPS’ COLLEGE AND NFL CAREER
2010, BYU • 13 games, 2,316 passing yards, 15 TDs, nine interceptions.
2011, BYU • Nine games, 1,452 yards, nine TDs, eight interceptions.
2013, Kansas • 11 games, 1,414 yards, eight TDs, 10 interceptions.
2014, Miami • Four games, 51 yards, no TDs or interceptions.
2015, New York Jets • Training camp.
2016, Seattle Seahawks • Training camp and practice squad.
2017, Seattle Seahawks • offseason program.