Nelson, by most people's estimations, is the anti-Heaps. He came out of high school with little hype, and little arm-strength — choosing to transfer to BYU following his mission service. What Nelson does have though, and what Mendenhall loves — is a dogged determination to rise above his abilities while buying into every aspect of the BYU program.
As 2010 wore on, however, Heaps became the clear future at the quarterback position. Nelson went down early in the season with an injury while Heaps ended the year strong with nothing but glorious prospects ahead.
Entering the 2011 fall practice session, Nelson was nothing but an afterthought, doing his best to secure the No. 2 spot, ahead of James Lark, who was providing some surprising competition. Heaps was clearly the man, the starter and the future at BYU.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman even fashioned his offense around Heaps, choosing to go with a pro-style, under-center system that relied on a strong running game, leading to many play-action and deep-ball opportunities. While Heaps was lights-out during the first week of practices, it began to stagnate as the defense began to throw more and more different coverage and blitz packages at him.
That stagnation continued into the season, leading to the improbable conclusion that Heaps may not be the best guy to play under center. Those conclusions came to a climax during the Cougars' second half against Utah State, when Heaps was pulled in favor of Nelson. With the offense simply not working, Nelson did work, bringing the team back, and the rest — as they say — is history.
The team rallied around Nelson, with Mendenhall providing effusive praise for him throughout — stating clearly and constantly that Nelson was his guy going forward.
So where did that leave Heaps? On the bench and unhappy with no clear way to prove himself so long as Nelson remained in the program.
Mendenhall floated around the notion that Heaps was open to red-shirting, but in the end he didn't take that option. Yes, he'll have to sit out a year due to transfer rules, but will try to achieve his lofty expectations elsewhere.
Many questions remain in the wake of Heaps' decision to transfer. How did BYU fail to accommodate a five-star quarterback who was wanted by every school in the country? Was it BYU's failure or was it Heaps' failure in not acclimating properly to Mendenhall's program and doing the things necessary to live up to his hype?
There's no sure answer — at least from BYU's standpoint.
Heaps, meanwhile is not done — he's sure to catch on to a good program and will be given a great opportunity to start. Considering where he's come from and his aspirations to be the next great Cougar quarterback, it's shocking that his place to do that won't be at BYU.
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