PROVO — From the moment that he announced he was verbally committing to the BYU football program during a news conference at a sports bar in Salt Lake City, Cougar fans' expectations for quarterback Jake Heaps were high.
It took a little while for Heaps, regarded in some circles as the nation's top prep QB two years ago, to start living up to those expectations. As a true freshman, Heaps, who started 10 games, struggled before leading the Cougars to wins in five of their final six contests and becoming the most prolific freshman quarterback in school history.
Now, as a sophomore, and surrounded by experience and talent on the offense, those high expectations are higher than ever.
And that's exactly how Heaps wants it.
"I came to BYU because of the rich quarterback tradition, because BYU has such a prolific offense and this is a storied program," he said. "To be a part of this, to be the quarterback, it's a humbling experience. I wouldn't want to be in any other place. People ask, 'How do you deal with the pressures or the situation?' I signed up for this. I wanted these expectations. I wanted our team to be in this situation we're in right now, and have people believe that we can go win a national championship.
"We can go to BCS games. That's the expectation that we want. We embrace it and we love it. Personally, I have a blast watching these guys believing in each other and believing that we can do it."
Though he grew up in Seattle as a diehard Washington Huskies fan, Heaps has learned in a hurry what it means to be a Cougar quarterback.
"BYU is truly Quarterback U.," Heaps said. "This place is so unique and so different. You're not only representing a football team, but BYU is sponsored by the LDS Church and you're representing the LDS faith. You take on that role and responsibility."
First-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, who was a BYU quarterback himself exactly 10 years ago, worries about some of the hype surrounding his young quarterback, knowing that Heaps is still learning.
But, Doman adds, that if Heaps continues to work hard, "he will become the best quarterback in the country. I don't shy away from saying that."
During the off-season, Heaps got stronger, spent countless hours honing his game, turned 20, and got married.
"He's gone through a lot of maturity in a lot of ways off the football field," Doman said. "He's older and more mature. He's ready to do well ... Jake's not where he needs to be yet, nor where he wants to be. That's not saying Jake won't be a great quarterback. But he has to get better, and I believe he will."
Heaps' teammates are confident that Heaps will continue to improve.
"He's always been a guy with a lot of confidence," said senior wide receiver McKay Jacobson. "With a year under his belt, he's going to be that much more comfortable with things, and I think he'll progress the same way he did last year throughout the year."
While there's plenty of the attention on him, especially as the Cougars go independent, Heaps tries to put the focus back on his teammates and coaches.
"I'm all about this team and what this program is about," he said. "I'm excited to be one of the people who gets to be a part of this. Hopefully we show well and show everybody in the country what we're all about."
Expectations? Bring them on.
"There are high expectations for this football team," Heaps said. "We've used that as a motivating factor. We have a chip on our shoulder, and we feel like we have something to prove.
"We kind of got a bad taste in our mouth from last season. Sure, it ended great, but we're not a 7-6 football team. We're much better than that. We want to prove to everybody what we're capable of and be able to do it on a national scale."
Jake Heaps file
Biggest influence: "My biggest influence growing up was my family. Now, it's probably my wife. She's a great influence on me. I've been very fortunate to have people in my life that have steered me the right way and guided me to be the person I am today."
Best football memory: "Probably my sophomore year of high school, state championship game. We were down 28-7 heading into the fourth quarter. We ended up winning 42-35. That was a crazy game. Anyone in Washington will tell you it's one of the best games they've ever watched."
Favorite quarterback: "My two favorites are Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers right now. Drew Brees, I feel like I'm a two-inch-taller version of Drew Brees. I love the way he plays the game. He's got such a swagger to him. You can tell he has total control of that team and everyone looks to him as a leader and a guy they can trust. I've gotten to meet Aaron a couple of times on my (recruiting) trips to Cal. He's just a great guy. He's a phenomenal player."
Pregame ritual or superstitions: "I have a lot of superstitions. I'd say the whole pregame is a superstition. I put my pads on a certain way. It has to go a certain way. If I do anything different, I take it off and put it back on and remind myself of what I did. It's very stressful, but I have to do it."
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