PROVO — These summer football camps you see sprouting up in June and July can trigger bonds that last a lifetime.
Take the case of linebacker Kyle Van Noy, receiver Ross Apo and quarterback Jake Heaps, who met at a BYU summer camp three years ago when their high school careers were just starting to bloom.
Back in that summer of 2008, they were dreamers like most kids when they just start to date, drive cars and earn letterman jackets. Back in that summer, they ate together, hung out and forged relationships. They talked of playing together, winning a national championship. They still do.
But their paths took very different directions.
While Van Noy first committed to BYU as did Heaps, Apo gave an early commitment to Texas. Van Noy then got in trouble back home in Reno, Nev., and faced a charge of driving under the influence as a minor. It jeopardized his scholarship offer to attend BYU.
Van Noy left Reno and lived with Heaps for a summer in Seattle after his legal problems in 2009. "We became blood brothers, me, Jake and Ross," said Van Noy.
In the end, it only made the trio closer.
Apo abandoned Texas for BYU, Van Noy accepted a condition by Bronco Mendenhall to delay his enrollment by half a year while he proved his legal issues were behind him. Ironically, all started their college education at the same time, January 2010, although Van Noy is a year older than Heaps and Apo.
Van Noy, one of the nation's top-rated high school linebackers, weaves a tale of friendship, struggles and increased faith. Adopted, Van Noy doesn't know much of anything about his biological father.
He talks kind of slow in a John Wayne sort of way. He cracks up his teammates with his teasing, wisecracks and jokes. He seems to always deliver one-liners that keep players and coaches off balance.
On the field Van Noy is, at times, almost unblockable. He is fast enough to blanket tight ends in coverage and even gives receivers trouble. His quickness on a blitz to the quarterback has become a mainstay on BYU's practice field — as it was in games his freshman year.
"When Kyle walks in to a room, everyone notices him. He has that kind of presence," said Heaps.
"He is a funny guy; he can get to you," said quarterback James Lark.
"People make fun of us, tease us, because we're always together," said Van Noy. "We do everything together and we've become very close. But you know what? We've become closer to all our teammates, we really have. We stick up for each other, we have all bonded as a team."
It wasn't always that way.
When they arrived on campus — part of one of BYU's highest-ranked recruiting classes ever — they had a target on their backs. The established players naturally didn't like the rookies thinking things would be handed to them. They were scrutinized, criticized. Some veterans were quick to leak rumors about their "attitudes" and "work ethic" and thought proclamations of future success were premature.
It didn't sit right with many.
"Some guys had a chip on their shoulders about us," said Van Noy. "It was hard. I didn't feel as welcome as I thought I would be. But respect is something you have to earn. I believe that and I understand it, but I think you can help people earn respect. I guess some guys felt we were going to take their jobs."
As a result — none of them started in 2010. They hadn't paid dues or "embraced the culture." They "needed to learn" and be humbled.
Heaps, rated by many as the top high school quarterback in the class of 2010, ended up starting BYU's last 10 games his freshman year after Riley Nelson injured his shoulder and had surgery after a loss at Florida State on Sept. 18.
Apo has a skill set seldom seen in a Cougar receiver — length and speed, but he got injured in camp and barely played in one game last season. This followed a shoulder injury and surgery right after he enrolled at BYU in the winter of 2010.
"It was tough, very tough," said Van Noy. "I didn't play for the first four games. I thought I'd made plays in camp. Ross had a bummer of an injury and it was very hard for him. We rallied around each other and it made us closer."
Heaps says Van Noy and Apo are the first guys he calls when he has something to deal with. He and Apo work out together every day with catch-and-throw timing. He has watched Van Noy handle adversity and grow because of it.
"Kyle is a very good person, a kind and friendly guy. He has experienced things that have changed his life. I consider him my best friend — same with Ross," said Heaps.
Both Apo and Van Noy have Tongan roots. Van Noy teases Apo, who regularly visits relatives in Tonga, that he is of royal nobility in Tonga and he has to return and check on his inheritance.
"With all the trails I've had, Jake and Ross have been a big impact in my life," said Van Noy. "As for me sticking it out here, it's cool to have them the rest of the way in my life."
Apo claims Van Noy is one of a kind. Yes, he talks slow, like he just got out of bed, he agreed. "He makes it fun."
"He can make you laugh, really get to you," said Apo.
While football brought them together, it isn't their topic of the day when together.
"We joke about things and we don't' ever talk about football, only once in a blue moon," said Van Noy.
"We are usually talking about the dumbest things in the world, like Jake doing the commercial about Jimmer. Golfing has become the new hobby for all three of us."
Van Noy says it's kind of nice not to talk football because there are plenty of other people who don't want to talk about anything else.
Apo, Heaps and Van Noy work part time for First Colony Mortgage in Orem, and at a recent company golf tournament, folks said Van Noy had members of his foursome rolling on the fairways. "I laughed my head off, too," Van Noy said, "but it was those guys, not me, who were funny. They didn't even know who I was for most of the round but at the end of the day, they could tell I was a good person, a good humble person."
Van Noy admits he can get to people but he doesn't see himself as a comedian. "I'm shy like a spider. I don't usually come up to people and talk.
"I'm more of a sneaky guy, always up to something even with the coaches. Jake and Ross say I've got a smirk like I'm up to something, or up to no good. People say I can make them laugh. I think when people meet me personally, they change their perception of me with my past mistakes. If they come up and talk to me like a normal person, they change their whole perception."
The trio have couple-dated in the past, which is expected to continue, even though Heaps will be the first to marry. Van Noy is dating a BYU soccer player who friends say has had a tremendous influence on his life.50 comments on this story
Three summers ago, they were all boys. Summer camp kids.
Today they're best friends who have become men.