PROVO — This is a tale of two Jakes.
One Jake, Washington quarterback Jake Locker, is beginning his final season of college football. The other Jake, BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, is set to make his collegiate debut. Conveniently, it will all happen at the same venue, LaVell Edwards Stadium, and at the same time, Saturday, when the Cougars and Huskies collide in the 2010 season-opener.
Locker is a four-year starter and a Heisman Trophy candidate. Heaps is the backup to Riley Nelson, as part of BYU's two-quarterback system, and is expected to play extensively against the Huskies. Locker is a polished senior who is expected to be a top NFL draft pick. Heaps is a prep All-American who has yet to take a snap in a college game.
Still, Locker and Heaps have much more in common than just their first names. They are two of the best high school quarterbacks ever produced by the state of Washington and both have dealt with high expectations. Locker led Ferndale High to a 37-4 record and a state title in three years as a starting quarterback. Heaps guided Skyline High to a 40-2 record in three years as a starter and captured three state titles.
Steve Gervais knows, and has coached, both of them.
Gervais coached Heaps when he was a sophomore at Skyline. After that season, Gervais left Skyline to become an assistant at Washington, where he helped coach Locker.
The irony that Heaps is starting his BYU career against his hometown team, Washington — and Locker — is not lost on Gervais, who is now the athletic director at Bishop Blanchet High in the Seattle area.
"I've got the front page of the Seattle Times from 2007 when Jake Heaps started his first game as a sophomore at Skyline and Jake Locker started his first game at Syracuse as a (true freshman) at Washington," Gervais said. "That day there were full-color photos of both of them — one on the top half, one on the bottom half. The fact they're going to be playing against each other, I think it's a very cool thing. I'm very close to both of them. They do know each other pretty well. They've worked out together and spent time together."
Growing up only miles away from the University of Washington campus, Heaps was a big Huskies fan. The Heaps family had purple and gold memorabilia throughout the house and attended Washington games.
BYU was the first school to offer Heaps, who is LDS, a scholarship — during his sophomore year. Not long after that, Washington made him an offer. Over time, many more offers poured in. Ultimately, Heaps chose BYU.
While the decision was celebrated in Provo and throughout Cougar Nation, the mood in the Seattle was decidedly different.
"The people who are close to him at Skyline and in Sammamish, where he grew up, are happy for Jake," said Gervais. "The people who are true Husky fans were very disappointed, to the point of anger, that he left. But if you know Jake and his family, you know what he represents. It was, in those eyes, a good choice for him. There's a mixed bag. There are people who don't want him to succeed because he left Washington. But there is a strong group of people who are very happy for him and will be rooting for him real hard. For Washington people, once they get past this Washington-BYU game, as time goes on, I think people will admire what he is doing and respect the quarterback that he will become. I truly believe he will be very successful out there."
Skyline head coach Mat Taylor, who coached Heaps during his junior and senior seasons, was one of those that had hoped Heaps would stay home and play for Washington.
"Selfishly, it was hard. He and I are pretty close and I wanted to be able to watch him. I wanted to watch him practice," he said. "It's nice when any of my players go to Washington just because we're 10 or 15 miles away from there. But you know what? Once the selfish feelings were out, I was very supportive of him going to BYU. It's a good place for him. I've been down there and the coaching staff does an outstanding job. BYU is a great fit for him. Not only athletically, but spiritually, too."
Gervais said Heaps' future is bright. "I think he'll have an outstanding career at BYU. It's a great fit and I think the sky's the limit for both him and the BYU football team and the BYU offense with him as the quarterback."
Asked this week about Heaps' progress, Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall said he's been "pleasantly surprised" by the true freshman.
"I look back on spring practice, which would still be Jake's senior year in high school. There were a number of plays and throws that Jake was making on the field and I had to remind myself, 'This is a senior in high school right now, rather than a redshirt sophomore quarterback.' I have been impressed with his level of understanding of offensive football, his accuracy and his ability to really make every throw we have asked of him to make in terms of a physical standpoint. I hadn't expected him to be this far along in terms of the decisions and the accuracy and delivering the football all over the field the way he has been."
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