PROVO — When Jake Heaps committed to BYU during a highly publicized news conference in the summer of 2009, wide receiver Ross Apo sat right beside him, also announcing that he would be a Cougar.
Now, more than 21/2 years later, Heaps is in the process of transferring. But Apo remains committed to BYU.
"I'm going to stay," Apo said this week. "I never had intentions of moving anywhere, even if I did have a rough season, I don't think I'd ever leave here. I love this place."
Apo's career got off to a rocky start when he suffered an open dislocation of his left index finger during a practice early last season.
The injury was so severe that the bone in his finger protruded out of his receivers' glove. Apo underwent surgery and didn't play the rest of the season.
This year, Apo has shown glimpses of his potential. He caught the Cougars' first two touchdown passes of the season — one against Ole Miss and one against Texas — both from Heaps. Apo finished the regular season by grabbing a pair of TD catches at Hawaii from Riley Nelson.
On the season, the redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas, caught 34 passes for 453 yards and a team-high nine touchdown receptions.
While Heaps and Apo worked out together frequently even before they arrived at BYU, Apo has now established a rapport with Nelson, which he hopes will continue when the Cougars meet Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 30, 10 a.m. MT, ESPN) and into next season.
"Here in practice, he's starting to trust me a little bit more," Apo said of Nelson. "I've got to make the plays for him whenever he throws me the ball. I've been trying my hardest to make the plays and he's been believing in me and throwing me the ball lately. I think we've gotten better with each other."
Apo was expected to make a big impact for BYU last season as a true freshman. But his injury altered that plan.
When it comes to Apo's development, coach Bronco Mendenhall said things have worked out for the best.
"Ideally, there's a lot of benefit to a freshman redshirting and learning and getting up in the morning to lift and focusing on school and realizing they want to play," the coach explained. "So Ross has had a really nice year because he's an excellent player and also he had a lot of time to prepare. And he's very, very teachable and coachable. Sometimes that's promoted from through just waiting and watching and wanting your turn."
Apo acknowledges that making the transition from high school to college — both academics and football — has been difficult at times, but he's adjusting.
"They expect you to be everywhere on time," he said. "In high school, the coaches kind of gave you slack and the teacher would help you out. But here, school is at another level and it's been pretty rough. But I'm getting used to it."
During his time at BYU, Apo has forged a strong friendship with fellow wide receiver Cody Hoffman.
Meanwhile, Apo said he wishes Heaps the best.
"I really didn't ask him (why he decided to transfer) and get into it. I'm sure it's the best thing for him and his family," he said. "The bottom line is, it was his choice and I told him I support him 100 percent with whatever he wants to do."
What has been the team's reaction to Heaps' departure?
"It was kind of hard, but Riley has stepped in and he's been winning games for us and doing an awesome job in the games," Apo said. "Everybody's trying to move on and put that behind us."
Cougars on the air
Armed Forces Bowl
Tulsa (8-4) vs. BYU (9-3)
Dec. 30, 10 a.m. MT
Ford Stadium, Dallas
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
email: [email protected]