Keith Johnson, Deseret News
PROVO — In the history of BYU football, only two true freshmen quarterbacks have taken snaps as starters, and both of their stints in that role were brief.
Neither began their respective careers as the starter, and their debuts were out of dire need, not necessarily because they were ready to shoulder that kind of burden.
Drew Miller became the first true freshman QB to start a game for the Cougars, in 1997, taking over for an injured Kevin Feterik. That resulted in a humbling 14-3 loss at lowly UTEP. After his sophomore year, Miller, frustrated with his lack of playing time, transferred to Montana, where he was the starter in 1999 and 2000.
In 2003, as a true freshman, John Beck started for an injured Matt Berry at home against Stanford and the Cougars suffered an 18-14 defeat. Beck dealt with plenty of setbacks that season, going 1-3 as a starter. But by the time his career was over, he established himself as a three-year starter, guided BYU to a conference championship as a senior, and he went on to become an NFL draft pick.
While Miller was just months removed from high school when he started his first collegiate game, Beck had served a mission and participated in spring drills before his first season in Provo.
Then there's the true freshman who didn't start, or play, at BYU — Ben Olson, the consensus No. 1 quarterback coming out of high school in 2002. He signed with the Cougars, but then-coach Gary Crowton opted to redshirt the young phenom. Olson served a mission after his first year, then transferred to UCLA.
This spring, BYU coaches are evaluating three quarterbacks, including true freshman Jake Heaps, who finished high school early in order to enroll in January. He's battling junior Riley Nelson and sophomore James Lark while redshirt freshman Jason Munns, who is currently on a mission, joins the fray in August.
Coaches say they likely won't name a starter until fall camp.
During his prep career at Skyline High in Issaquah, Wash., Heaps was 40-2 as a starter and was ranked the No. 1 prep QB in the country by Scout.com. He threw for 9,196 yards, 114 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in leading Skyline to three consecutive state championships.
Could Heaps become the next true freshman to start at BYU?
While quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman says it's too early to say, he added that Heaps isn't your average freshman.
"Jake is far beyond his years. For an 18-year-old young man, he should be 18 right now, but he's not. He's acting like a 23-year-old veteran," said Doman. "That's very unique. That's his No. 1 strength right now — his maturity and confidence for how young he is. It allows him to succeed out there. He's also been trained well. Credit his coaches who have trained him through the years.
"He's got a long ways to go to understand the offense and efficiently move the team around," said Doman, who didn't get his first start at BYU until late in his junior season. "There's a lot of things we put on the quarterback. We're not going to decrease that for him. We'll still expect him to do all those different things that we need to happen for this offensive scheme to work."
So just how hard is it for a true freshman to become the starter at BYU?
"It's hard," Doman said. "You look around the country, and there's been some true freshmen who have succeeded, but they're not taking their teams to championships. We want to win a championship. We need to make sure that if Jake's the starter, that we're 100 percent confident that we're on our way to a championship with him."
Just a little more than a week into spring practice, coach Bronco Mendenhall likes what he's seen from Heaps.
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