Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — Standing anxiously on the sidelines last Saturday at Oregon State, BYU sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps longed for another chance to take snaps. Instead, he stayed on the sidelines, watching his replacement, Riley Nelson, guide the Cougar offense to a season-high 38 points in a win over the Beavers.
"It's tough once you've been on the field," Heaps admitted this week. "You always want to be out there, especially since you've built strong relationships with those guys on the field. You want to battle out there with them and experience that together. Now my role has changed, and I support the team in whatever way I can."
After starting the first five games of the season, Heaps has been relegated to the role of backup. He hasn't played in two straight contests, which means he hasn't thrown a single pass in a game in the month of October.
"I definitely can learn a lot from this situation. I plan to make it a great situation for myself," Heaps said. "I'm learning from past mistakes and what I can do better this time around. It's definitely not the process that I would love to go through, but I'm going to make the best of it."
Chances are Heaps could return to the field at some point on Saturday (1 p.m., MT, BYUtv), when the Cougars host Idaho State, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
"I would love for Jake to get a chance to go in and play, whenever that is," said quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Brandon Doman.
Should BYU jump out to a large lead against the Bengals, Heaps could get another chance to show what he can do.
"I'm hoping so. That would be great," Heaps said, smiling. "I'm rooting for my team and rooting for the opportunity. If everything goes according to plan, then the reason why I'm coming on the field is because we're winning the game big. That would be a great thing for our football team. A lot of these guys in this locker room have worked hard in practice. They're excited to get their chance to play as well. If we were able to come out and play, that would be awesome."
Until recently, Heaps' collegiate career seemed to be going according to plan. But after Heaps and the offense struggled through the first 4½ games, the script changed in stunning fashion.
Regarded by some as the No. 1 prep QB in the country, Heaps arrived in Provo in the winter of 2010 with tons of hype and expectations. After breaking every freshman quarterback record at BYU last season, it appeared that Heaps was poised for a huge sophomore year.
But the offense failed to establish consistency, or score enough points, with Heaps as the starter. Doman, who recruited Heaps to BYU, decided to turn to backup Riley Nelson when the Cougars trailed Utah State late in the third quarter.
Not only did Nelson rally the Cougars to a dramatic win over the Aggies, but he's also started, and won, two more games. Before that memorable comeback against USU, nobody could have predicted this turn of events.
And nobody is more surprised than Heaps.
But through it all, Doman said Heaps has continued to work hard and prepare himself every week as if he were going to play. Doman said Heaps has handled the situation "real well. I've been proud of him."
"That's the only mindset you can have," Heaps said of always being ready to play. "That's the type of person that I am. It doesn't matter what role I have, I'm going to prepare like I'm the starter. I'm going to give it my all in practice and do everything I can to make sure I'm getting better."
As a former BYU quarterback himself, Doman can relate in some ways to Heaps' position. Doman rode the bench until the end of his junior year, when he earned the starting job. As a starter, Doman guided the Cougars to a 14-2 record in 16 games.
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