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Doug Robinson: Heaps should have borrowed page from Nelson's playbook

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6 2011 3:20 p.m. MST

Jake Heaps takes a snap during Brigham Young University football practice in Provo, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011.   (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Jake Heaps takes a snap during Brigham Young University football practice in Provo, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

If Jake Heaps isn't embarrassed about transferring from BYU to a school to be named later, then he ought to be. Talk about an awkward exit.

Two years ago, the kid had the audacity to hire a public relations firm and call a press conference to announce his arrival at BYU. Now he is, well, running from a fight.

What kind of field general does that?

No matter how anyone spins it, this is about playing time and it doesn't look good. Do you think he would be transferring if he still held the starting job?

Indulged, coddled and praised since he was a little leaguer, he had the job handed to him almost the day he arrived. He didn't know how to respond to a benching and playing No. 2 behind Riley Nelson. When had he ever faced such a situation?

(left to right) Zac Stout, Ross Apo, Jake Heaps) Prep quarterback Jake Heaps announces that he will sign with BYU next February, at a press conference at Iggy's Sports bar and grill in Salt Lake City Utah. Also announcing is Junior receiver from The Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas, and Zac Stout a Middle Line Backer from Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California. Thursday, June 4, 2009. Photo by Scott G Winterton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) (left to right) Zac Stout, Ross Apo, Jake Heaps) Prep quarterback Jake Heaps announces that he will sign with BYU next February, at a press conference at Iggy's Sports bar and grill in Salt Lake City Utah. Also announcing is Junior receiver from The Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas, and Zac Stout a Middle Line Backer from Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, California. Thursday, June 4, 2009. Photo by Scott G Winterton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

The irony is that Heaps, just 20 years old and two years removed from high school, could've learned much about persistence and playing through adversity — essential traits for a quarterback — from the very man who replaced him.

What if Nelson had had Heaps' attitude after losing the starting job to The Kid? By the end of last season, it was apparent that Nelson was facing a two-year sentence as a backup to Heaps, followed by the end of his career. He could have transferred elsewhere (and by the way, he did not run from a fight when he transferred from Utah State to BYU after his mission; to the contrary, he was giving up a sure starting job and stepping into the unknown for a chance to play for a nationally renowned program).

Nelson chose to stick it out and when Heaps faltered he got his chance and made the most of it. The BYU offense was transformed; the Cougars won. Nelson is not pretty but he has a Tim Tebow-like knack for leadership and winning in whatever way is required.

Brigham Young Cougar quarterback Jake Heaps (9)  poses  during media day in Provo  Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougar quarterback Jake Heaps (9) poses during media day in Provo Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

What if Jim McMahon had elected to bail out of BYU when things weren't going his way? As a sophomore, he was required to split time with junior Marc Wilson, just as Heaps was required to split time last season with Nelson. McMahon was then asked to redshirt the following season, just as Heaps has been asked to redshirt next year. McMahon seethed for two years. Then he went out and produced arguably the greatest season ever by a college quarterback and went on to become a first-round draft choice and Super Bowl champion.

Ready or not — and he was not — Heaps was given every opportunity to prove himself and lost the job. At first glance, his stats look pretty good. He completed 363-of-635 passes for 3,768 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. But he averaged a paltry 5.9 yards per attempt. This season, the Cougars struggled to win when he was on the field.

Riley Nelson got his first start as a Cougar on Saturday.__BYU quarterback Jake Heaps threw for 131 yards on 13-of-23 passes against Washington. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Riley Nelson got his first start as a Cougar on Saturday.__BYU quarterback Jake Heaps threw for 131 yards on 13-of-23 passes against Washington. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

What does Heaps have to gain by cutting and running? If he stays, he redshirts next season while Nelson plays out his senior season; if he transfers, he sits out next season per NCAA rules and then maybe wins the starting job. Either way, it's the same thing — he sits next year.

And what would be wrong with that?

The trend these days is to start quarterbacks young, right out of high school, or, in the pros, right out of college, and yet most would benefit from standing on the sidelines learning the position. There are too many quarterbacks who are rushed onto the field before they are ready, and their confidence and their game is shattered.

It was once the BYU way to have quarterbacks serve an apprenticeship. McMahon, Wilson, Gifford Nielsen, Robbie Bosco, Steve Young and others stood on the sideline a couple of years before becoming stars. BYU has gotten away from that philosophy, with mixed results.

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)

Young not only backed up McMahon for a couple of years, he was forced to back up Joe Montana for four years before becoming a star in the National Football League. That apprenticeship transformed him from a below-average player to a superstar.

Similarly, Aaron Rodgers backed up Brett Favre for three years before becoming the starter and an instant superstar.

And yet many high school quarterbacks feel entitled to start immediately in college. It rarely turns out well in the end.

Email: drob@desnews.com

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