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Ranking the best of the BYU quarterbacks that left the program

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 4:17 a.m. MDT

Ralph Martini () Ralph Martini ()

So Jake Heaps is leaving BYU and headed to a school to be named later. What else is new. He's not the first backup or demoted quarterback to hit the road at BYU. Ty Detmer alone sent more players to the bus station than the honor code.

Quarterbacks flock to BYU like violinists to Juilliard, but only one plays and the rest sit or leave to find another place to play. BYU has lost more good quarterbacks than most schools have signed.

Below is a list of a baker's dozen of the best BYU quarterbacks who transferred to other schools — and, in many cases, transferred again and again — to find starting jobs.

"I can't remember trying to keep any of them from leaving," says former BYU head coach LaVell Edwards. "They were good players, but they could see they weren't going to get the opportunity to play. In most cases we'd help them find a school, or, if they had some place in mind, we'd call that school."

Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) looks for the pass while getting blocking help from teammates Brandon Beddes (50) and Russell Petersen (72) while playing against Northern Arizona University at the Walkup Skydom in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011.  (Associated Press) Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen (4) looks for the pass while getting blocking help from teammates Brandon Beddes (50) and Russell Petersen (72) while playing against Northern Arizona University at the Walkup Skydom in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. (Associated Press)

If BYU could claim a mulligan, which quarterback would they try again? Here's a highly subjective rating of the quarterbacks who got away.

1. Drew Miller

Miller is arguably the best quarterback to leave the Cougars. His career at BYU paralleled Heaps' stay there. Both were from Washington. Both threw for more than 9,000 yards and 100 touchdowns. Both earned All-America honors. Both were thrown into action early. Both were required to split time with veteran players. Both stayed two seasons.

Miller planned to redshirt his freshman season, but after an injury to starter Kevin Feterik he was called into mop-up duty and later became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for BYU.

Quarterback Cade Cooper of SUU passes the ball. Southern Utah University vs Texas State University football played in Cedar City, Utah, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Quarterback Cade Cooper of SUU passes the ball. Southern Utah University vs Texas State University football played in Cedar City, Utah, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

He shared the job with Paul Shoemaker and played in four games. In one of those games, he threw three second-half TD passes to beat TCU. A year later, he shared playing time with Feterik before an injury sidelined Miller.

In a total of 11 games at BYU, Miller completed 60 of 112 passes for 762 yards, five TDs and six interceptions. Stuck behind Feterik and sour about losing his redshirt year for little playing time, he transferred to the University of Montana, where he became a star.

Miller led Division I-AA in pass efficiency as a junior in 1999 and guided the Grizzlies to a 9-2 regular-season record and a conference title while throwing for 3,461 yards and 32 TDs. As a senior he started 12 games (he missed three starts with injuries) and threw for 2,439 yards and 14 touchdowns. Another injury sidelined him in the early going of the I-AA championship game, and the Grizzlies lost 27-25. Miller, who set a Big Sky Conference record for passing yards per game, played briefly in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League.

Todd Mortensen (14) takes a snap during the annual BYU Blue & White game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo Saturday, April 10, 2004. (Jason Olson, Deseret News) Todd Mortensen (14) takes a snap during the annual BYU Blue & White game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo Saturday, April 10, 2004. (Jason Olson, Deseret News)

"He went on to have a great career," says Edwards.

It's tempting to wonder what he would have done if he had remained at BYU.

2. Ralph Martini

When the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Martini arrived at BYU in 1986, there was a crowd of quarterbacks and a dearth of tight ends, so Martini was moved to tight end for a season. He caught two passes, both for touchdowns. He returned to quarterback as a sophomore, but the position was still loaded and he didn't want to play the tight end position again. He transferred to San Jose State in 1988 and started at quarterback in 1989 and 1990, passing for 3,897 yards, 30 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. The Cougars, meanwhile, had to make do with a kid named Ty Detmer.

UCLA's Ben Olson as the University of Utah football team defeats the 10th ranked UCLA Bruins 44-6 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 15, 2007.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) UCLA's Ben Olson as the University of Utah football team defeats the 10th ranked UCLA Bruins 44-6 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 15, 2007. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

"He's another one who came along when we had a lot of good ones at the position," says Edwards.

3. Todd Mortensen

Mortensen seemed to have it all when he came to Provo — size (6-4, 225), pedigree (his father Fred was an NFL quarterback and his prep coach) and credentials (first-team All-State on an undefeated state championship team, 55 TD passes, 4,400 passing yards). But at BYU he was stuck as a backup for three seasons and completed just 27 of 77 passes for one touchdown and four interceptions.

"I felt like I had a lot of ability and a lot to contribute," Mortensen once told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But it just felt like the system and the way things were going, it just wasn't clicking."

QB #8 Riley Jensen (Garry Bryant, Deseret News) QB #8 Riley Jensen (Garry Bryant, Deseret News)

Mortensen wanted to get on the field so badly that in 2004 he transferred to the University of San Diego, a non-scholarship, Division I-AA program. He played for a first-year head coach named Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback who would later coach Stanford and, currently, the San Francisco 49ers.

Mortensen blossomed under Harbaugh in his one and only season of play at San Diego. He completed 234 of 389 passes for 2,874 yards and 25 touchdowns in 11 games and was named first-team All-America and Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the Pioneer League.

"Maybe if I'd been with Jim for a second year," Mortensen told the Chronicle, "I'd have more of a story like (Stanford quarterback) Andrew Luck."

He signed as a free-agent with the Detroit Lions in 2005, but was cut in camp. He signed with the New England Patriots in 2006 and was assigned to the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe, where he won his first three starts. He also played briefly in the CFL and AFL.

BYU's quarterback Drew Miller runs to avoid a defender during  Saturday's game between BYU and Murray State Saturday Sept. 26, 1998 at Cougar Stadium.  (Chuck Wing, Deseret News) BYU's quarterback Drew Miller runs to avoid a defender during Saturday's game between BYU and Murray State Saturday Sept. 26, 1998 at Cougar Stadium. (Chuck Wing, Deseret News)

4. Jeff Duva

Duva transferred from BYU to Hawaii when it became clear he wouldn't beat out Marc Wilson or Gifford Nielsen for the starting job. He was Hawaii's starting quarterback in 1978 and '79 and completed 218 of 405 passes for 2,950 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He played in the 1979 Hula Bowl and was named an honorable mention All-American.

5. Brad Sorensen

Sorensen, 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, redshirted the 2009 season at BYU and then transferred to Southern Utah to play for head coach Ed Lamb, a former BYU assistant coach. In 2010, he threw for 21 touchdowns, six interceptions and a school-record 3,163 yards while leading the team to its first Great West Conference championship. As a junior this season, he completed 288 of 425 passes (67.8 percent) for 3,143 yards, 17 TDs and 11 interceptions for the 6-5 T-Birds. For the second straight year he was named Great West Offensive Player of the Year.

Football BYU vs Nevada September 1, 2001 52 to 7  (Mark A. Philbrick, BYU) Football BYU vs Nevada September 1, 2001 52 to 7 (Mark A. Philbrick, BYU)

6. Dan Hartwig

Hartwig, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound Californian, arrived at BYU in 1975 and found himself stuck behind a pair of future first-round NFL picks, Jim McMahon and Marc Wilson. He attempted just three passes and completed two for 12 yards. In 1978, he transferred to Cal-Lutheran, where he threw for 2,203 yards and 21 TDs as a senior in 1979, playing well enough that he was selected in the ninth round of the 1980 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

"He had a great arm, but he just came along when we had Jim and Marc," says Edwards.

7. Ben Olson

Most BYU fans remember Olson. He was widely considered the top football recruit in the nation at any position. At 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, he threw for 2,989 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High. Olson redshirted his freshman season at BYU in 2002, then served an LDS Church mission. When he returned, he made headlines by signing with UCLA.

Jacob Bower (Kaitlyn Pieper, BYU) Jacob Bower (Kaitlyn Pieper, BYU)

He started the first five games in 2006, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 822 yards, five TDs and five interceptions, but a knee injury early in the fifth game sidelined him for five games, and he didn't play again the rest of the season. He was named the starter again for the 2007 season, but injuries limited him to seven games and he completed just 48 percent of his passes, for 1,040 yards, seven TDs and six interceptions.

Heading into the 2008 season, Olson was expected to be the starting quarterback again after Patrick Cowan, who won the job in the spring, was sidelined with a career-ending knee injury. But just weeks before the season began, Olson broke his right foot for the second time in four months and never played again.

8. Brock Spencer

Spencer, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, came to BYU from Clearfield High in 1990, but transferred to Montana State a year later. He won the starting job midway through the '93 season and retained the position through '94. He completed 253 of 495 passes for 24 touchdowns and 3,545 yards.

Drew Miller () Drew Miller ()

9. Brian Vye

Vye, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound graduate of San Jose's Leland High, took a long circuitous tour of schools in search of playing time only to return home again. An honorable mention All-American who was recruited by Pac-10 schools, he signed with BYU and served as Steve Sarkisian's backup for a year. After losing the backup job to Shoemaker the next season, he transferred to LSU in 1995 — and then to Gavilan College and finally to hometown San Jose State, where the Spartans hoped they could succeed with another BYU quarterback a la Martini.

He was the starter at the outset of the '97 and '98 seasons, but lost the job, although he continued to see spot playing time. In the 1998 season-opener, Vye passed for 196 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-23 upset of Stanford. In two seasons, he threw for 1,527 yards, nine TDs and eight interceptions.

Drew Miller () Drew Miller ()

10. Cade Cooper:

Cooper was another well-traveled quarterback who stopped at BYU for a cup of coffee, so to speak. He played two seasons at Snow College, where he was named national junior college player of the year. He transferred to BYU in the spring of 2007, but was injured in spring practice and fell out of the running for the starting job. He transferred to Oregon and redshirted the 2007 season, then transferred to Southern Utah in 2008 to play his last season of eligibility. Cooper threw for 2,988 yards, which was a school record until Sorensen, another former BYU quarterback, broke it.

11. Riley Jensen

After graduating from Cottonwood High in 1992, Jensen went to Snow College, then to France on a LDS Church mission, then to BYU for one semester, which was long enough to size up the competition — Feterik and Shoemaker. He transferred to Utah State, where he started the first six games of his senior season in 1998 before losing the job. He completed 93 of 194 passes for 1,231 yards, eight TDs and eight interceptions. In his best game, he threw for 338 yards and two TDs in a triple overtime loss to New Mexico. He also narrowly missed upsetting Utah when a receiver dropped a would-be TD pass.

Brian Vye () Brian Vye ()

12. Jacob Bower

Bower, a 6-foot-3, 242-pound prep All-American from Meridian, Idaho, is another well-traveled QB. He came to BYU in 2006 after serving a church mission. That winter he transferred to Bakersfield Community College after falling behind Max Hall in the competition to replace John Beck. He led Bakersfield to a 12-1 season, completing 61 percent of his passes, for 3,034 yards and 35 TDs, and was named first-team All-American. That earned him a scholarship to the University of Tulsa, where, in two seasons, he completed 26 of 51 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns. After playing in 14 games as a sophomore, he played in only two as a junior. He transferred to McNeese State for his senior season and won the starting job. He played in 10 games, completed 113 of 199 passes (57 percent) for 1,476 yards, eight TDs and nine interceptions for the 6-5 Cowboys. In his debut for McNeese, he threw for 288 yards and two TDs and ran for another TD to beat Lamar.

Ralph Martini () Ralph Martini ()

13. Gym Kimball

Kimball, a Skyline High grad, faced the daunting task at BYU of competing for playing time with McMahon, Steve Young and Marc Wilson, all future NFL starters. He transferred to Utah State. Injuries limited his playing time during his first season in Logan, but as a senior he threw for 1,913 yards, seven TDs and 14 interceptions.

Email: drob@desnews.com

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