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Analysis: The rise and fall of Jake Heaps

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 9:25 a.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps (9) as Brigham Young University plays New Mexico State University in football Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Provo, Utah.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps (9) as Brigham Young University plays New Mexico State University in football Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

PROVO — I found it somewhat obnoxious when I received the DVD back in 2005. A family friend of the Heaps family sent me footage of a then 12-year-old Heaps performing at the Barton Camp in Seattle.

I remember reluctantly watching the film, not so much because it interested me, but rather so I could tell the party I received it from that I watched it when asked.

What I saw when viewing the tape amazed me.

I don't consider myself an expert at evaluating quarterbacks, but it was very apparent when watching the young Heaps' footwork, release and arm-strength that he was going to be something special. I showed the footage to people whom I consider experts in evaluating QB talent and they readily concurred.

BYU quarterbacks Jake Heaps, right, and Riley Nelson celebrate the Cougars' season-opening victory over Washington. They each threw for 131 yards.    (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) BYU quarterbacks Jake Heaps, right, and Riley Nelson celebrate the Cougars' season-opening victory over Washington. They each threw for 131 yards. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Heaps was very much a "can't-miss prospect," and I learned very early during the recruiting process that BYU was unlikely to miss out on his services. Yes, he was recruited by everyone and could have named his school, but BYU remained his favorite throughout the process.

Looking back at what I've come to know about Heaps and his family, it's nothing short of shocking to learn of his decision to transfer from BYU. The "can't miss" kid whom BYU could not miss out on is going elsewhere.

Yes, the signs were readily apparent since his starting spot was yanked from him in favor of Riley Nelson following the Utah State game. Despite the sure signs, while knowing quite a bit about his situation and his family's perspective, I found it a possibility that he'd stick it out.

Looking back, I should have known better.

Heaps signed on with BYU in 2010 as the most-highly-touted prospect to ever sign with the program — or at least since Ben Olson signed back in 2003.

Quarterbacks' Riley Nelson,left, and #9 Jake Heaps workout during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News archives) Quarterbacks' Riley Nelson,left, and #9 Jake Heaps workout during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News archives)

The Skyline High quarterback was a consensus five-star prospect and ranked as not only the No. 1 QB prospect by some services, but as the No. 1 prospect at any position.

He went on to attract many top prospects to BYU's program after committing to the Cougars.

Players such as the four-star Ross Apo, the four-star Alani Fua and Zac Stout, among others, readily made mention that a big reason they came to BYU was to play with Heaps.

Many won't soon forget his commit announcement at Iggy's Sports Grill along with Apo and Stout. Many saw it as brash, self-indulgent and ridiculous. Heaps and his family maintain to this day that he did it to bring good press to BYU and to help attract more prime recruiting talent to the program.

Top recruit Jake Heaps, right, has helped BYU sign other good players, like Zac Stout, left, and Ross Apo.   (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Top recruit Jake Heaps, right, has helped BYU sign other good players, like Zac Stout, left, and Ross Apo. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

The Iggy's press conference is just the sort of thing that Bronco Mendenhall hates. Throughout my years of covering recruiting, the BYU head coach has made no secret regarding his utter disdain for the recruiting process and the hype assigned to prospective players out of high school.

Mendenhall prefers players who completely buy into his program and aren't concerned with any ancillary aspects involved with recruiting — players who earn their spots. During every letter-of-intent day, he makes mention on how little he cares about stars assigned to his signees or what other schools recruited them.

Heaps was already part of BYU's program during LOI day, graduating early from high school so that he could participate in spring ball and get a jump-start in securing the starting quarterback nod as a true freshman.

Top recruit Jake Heaps, right, has helped BYU sign other good players, like Zac Stout, left, and Ross Apo. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Top recruit Jake Heaps, right, has helped BYU sign other good players, like Zac Stout, left, and Ross Apo. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Throughout the spring, he showed to be clearly the top option at the position, living up to his tremendous hype — at least initially.

Entering fall camp, however, Mendenhall and the coaching staff decided they didn't want to just hand the starting job to a true freshman. They changed the offense for Riley Nelson, and decided to employ both of them as rotating quarterbacks to start the season.

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.

Top recruit Jake Heaps, right, has helped BYU sign other good players, like Zac Stout, left, and Ross Apo. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Top recruit Jake Heaps, right, has helped BYU sign other good players, like Zac Stout, left, and Ross Apo. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps (9) celebrates the win after  the Cougar season opener with Ole Miss  in Oxford, Miss  Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. BYU won 14-13. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps (9) celebrates the win after the Cougar season opener with Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. BYU won 14-13. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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.

BYU Quarterback #9 Jake Heaps watches from the sidelines as BYU and Utah State play Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU Quarterback #9 Jake Heaps watches from the sidelines as BYU and Utah State play Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

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