Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Jimmer Fredette, the next generation, answers questions with a practiced blend of confidence and humility. You know the drill: respect everyone, fear no one.
The sky is the limit, he says, regarding goals and dreams. Predictions? He's not touching that, except to say he believes BYU has the potential to beat everyone on its schedule.
It is last month's preseason football media day for BYU, and quarterback Jake Heaps is the most sought-after interview in the house. Some are saying he will have a breakout season, the kind BYU's other famous quarterbacks produced. It's not impossible that he could have a year like Jimmer, the reigning national basketball player of the year.
For his part, Heaps handles the attention with agreeable ease. Asked whether he feels he is becoming a football version of Jimmer, Heaps replies, "That would be a great opportunity for us, and if that was the case, that would mean that both (the football and basketball) teams were doing well and I would be excited for the opportunity to be involved. And yeah, I hope I handle it — if it comes along — as well as he would."
Heaps actually has a strong chance of being the next Jimmer, at least in one sense. Energized by the move to independence and fresh off a great basketball season, BYU fans are longing for another athlete to lionize. Heaps surely fits the profile. Rated the best prep quarterback in the nation by Scout.com when he signed with BYU, he has done little to disappoint. He struggled early with inexperience last year but finished strong. This fall he has been both under control and in command, a man with a plan.
At the same time, right now it's only anticipation. Remember Ben Olson? He too was considered the nation's best prep quarterback, and also signed to play at BYU, but injuries haunted his career. Talk is cheap and potential doesn't always translate.
So for now Heaps is only a Jimmer in waiting.
"Jake has to be the best college football player in the country in order for that to happen," says offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "Jimmer was the best and Jake is not the best right now. He's got a lot of work to do in order to be the best. Jimmer put the time in and Jake, I think, is learning what that means right now — to put the time in to be great.
"I don't know that I could say that he's Jimmer right now, but I do think he's capable of being that guy."
Heaps could actually rise to stardom faster than Fredette, who didn't make a blip on the radar until midway through his junior season. Because football is so much bigger than college basketball, and because BYU football will get far more ESPN exposure than basketball did, his popularity could rise exponentially.
"If he does become that guy, with this school and with the partnership we have, it would probably be bigger than it was for Jimmer," says Doman. "I don't know if that will happen this year. It would probably take another two or three years before that ever happens — if it happens."
Yet even this early it's hard not to draw comparisons. Both have a wholesome modesty that stops shy of self-deprecation. Both have rabid followings, though Fredette's grew to a national level. Neither went on an LDS mission, preferring to use athletics as a platform. They talked a number of times last year about their common situations.
"Me and Jimmer, we have the same personality — kind of humble, laid-back kinds of guys, taking everything in stride and grateful for the opportunity, but not looking at it as a burden but an opportunity," Heaps says in an oh-so-Jimmerish way.
But Heaps has physical gifts that already put him close to NFL territory. Fredette had to stay four years in college to raise his stock. Doman notes that as a sophomore Heaps is performing at an equivalent or higher level than NFLers Max Hall and John Beck did when they were sophomores.
"He has all the tools," says Doman.
That in turn means if the Cougars win big, he will almost surely become the next Jimmer, a national phenomenon, a household name.
"He's still trying to figure out how to be great. We certainly believe he can be great," Doman concludes. "People think he's greater than he is right now. But that's OK. He's the BYU quarterback and we embrace that, and I believe he'll get there."
In which case a crowd chanting "You got Ja-a-ked!" can't be far behind.
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