PROVO — Both quarterbacks were highly touted prep recruits, and both enrolled at their respective universities in January. Now, they're both experiencing the ups-and-downs of being starting collegiate signal-callers as teenagers.
When BYU and Colorado State square off Saturday, it will feature a duel between a pair of true freshmen QBs — the Cougars' Jake Heaps and the Rams' Pete Thomas.
A 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from El Cajon, Calif., Thomas was ranked the nation's No. 16 pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com. He was named the Rams' starter during fall camp, beating out redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri, and has started every game this season. He's the first freshman quarterback to start at CSU since 2004.
The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Heaps, rated the No. 1 high school quarterback by Rivals.com and the No. 1 pro-style QB by Rivals.com, starred at Skyline High School in Washington. He took over the starting duties at BYU in the fourth game after sharing snaps with Riley Nelson, who started the first three games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
While Heaps doesn't know Thomas, he's followed his career. If nothing else, the two can relate to each other.
"Pete's been playing really good football right now. As a freshman, I know exactly what he's going through," Heaps said. "He's done a tremendous job handling his team and leading his team. We've kind of been in the same position. The teams have started out a little bit rough, but now we're headed in the right direction at the end of the season. My hat's off to him.
"It will be a lot of fun going head-to-head. We've only been head-to-head one time, in a seven-on-seven passing tournament (in high school). That was a lot of fun."
Heaps and Thomas have won three games each as starters. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall pointed out the two freshmen have some things in common in the way they've performed.
"Not too similar in terms of style, but similar in terms of youth and some of the decisions they make," he said. "You'll see moments of brilliance and greatness, then you'll see some decisions that the young men and the coaches would like to have back as quickly as possible."
"They're both very, very talented young men," said Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild. "Both have kind of been put into the fire, so to speak, maybe earlier than the coaches would like to do. Both teams are trying to commit to a run game to protect the quarterback."
Thomas has thrown for 2,273 yards and completed 66 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In his last outing, a 24-19 loss at San Diego State, Thomas was 22-of-40 for 266 yards and an interception. He was sacked five times.
The last week of September, Thomas was named Mountain West Conference offensive player of the week after leading CSU to a 36-34 win over Idaho. He completed 29-of-37 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns.
Heaps' stats aren't nearly as impressive. He has passed for 1,351 yards and completed 53 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and seven interceptions. However, last week, Heaps turned in his best performance of the season, completing 19-of-31 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns in a 55-7 rout of UNLV.
"It was a blast to finally get an opportunity to showcase what I was capable of, to have an opportunity to get some throws and have a game plan that really fits my strengths and let me throw the ball downfield a little bit," Heaps said. "It was really fun for me. It felt really good."
"Saturday was like, OK, there's Jake. There's the Jake that we know," said Cougar wide receiver B.J. Peterson. "It was so awesome to see Jake fulfill all those things we had seen over the summer and in fall camp. The confidence has always been there with Jake. But, really, it's just making things happen in the game."
With six starts under his belt, Heaps said he doesn't feel like a freshman anymore. He said the adversity he's faced to this point has expedited his progress.
"Overall, it's helped me become a better teammate and a better leader and person and a quarterback. This has been a good experience for me. It's been one that you continue to just put your head down and keep working and keep fighting and show your teammates that you're in it for them. It's been really fun. I wouldn't take anything back."
BYU linebacker Shane Hunter said the fact Thomas is a freshman doesn't change the way the defense prepares this week.
"He's got a good arm, and he's a smart kid. He throws the ball with accuracy and he makes good decisions. He's a good quarterback," he said. "You say he's a freshman, but what's this, game 10? So he's almost played a whole year. I would say to this point, it doesn't really matter that he's a freshman. He's seen a lot of different looks."
Heaps is looking forward to matching up with Thomas, a fellow freshman.
"I'm going to do the best I can to give everything I can for my team and he'll do the same for his," he said. "We'll see who comes out on top."
Freshmen's tale of the tape
Player. . .G. . .Starts. . .Att. . . .Comp. . . .Int. . . .TD. . .Yards
Thomas, CSU. . .10. . .10. . .316. . .209. . .10. . .10. . .2,273
Heaps, BYU. . .9. . .6. . .261. . .139. . .7. . .4. . .1,351
Cougars on the air
BYU (4-5, 3-2) at Colorado State (3-7, 2-4)
Hughes Stadium, Fort Collins, Colo.
TV: The mtn.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM