This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Jake Heaps took some time Tuesday, after BYU spring practices were done, to reflect on the pain that came with what happened to him last season and bask, if that's the right word, in the comfort of where he is now and what he believes is coming next.
The absolute nadir of his freshman season came after a lopsided loss to TCU at Fort Worth, a game in which the 2-5 Cougars could not consistently pick up yardage and the quarterback could not effectively lead the team. Heaps remembered the aftermath as though it occurred this morning.
"It was so frustrating," he said. "We threw for under 100 yards and we rushed for under 100. Our defense played really well. Our offense, we couldn't move the ball."
Heaps completed 14 passes in 30 attempts for 91 yards, with two interceptions. Neither he nor his offense belonged on the same field with the Horned Frogs, and he knew it.
"It was a long flight," he said. "When we got back, I went home, kept to myself, just stayed in my room, and hashed over everything in my mind."
A string of eureka moments followed, as one useful thought after another hatched out of his aching head that night: "We needed to come together as a team. … We had to step it up. … We had to make everything more intense. … Everyone had to work harder."
As for Heaps, he had to make his own changes, too. The prominent high school quarterback out of Washington had arrived at BYU with high expectations. He stumbled through the early season after coaches made the mistake of not proclaiming a starter, leaving not only Heaps and Riley Nelson in the lurch, but the entire team.
That double-quarterback system worked all of one game, a win over Washington, before helping grease a four-loss skid. Heaps said all the right things publicly, but privately, he was troubled by the herky-jerky, play-wait-don't-play formula.
"We had two quarterbacks," he said Tuesday. "Nothing was established. We didn't know what kind of team we were on offense. It was hard to get clicking. The coaches later said they would do it differently. It's hard to have two different offenses."
All the while, quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman told Heaps to fight through the storm with strength and maturity. Even after Nelson was injured, and ruled out for the season, when the team listed, Doman implored his young quarterback to set an example.
"He told me to keep battling," Heaps said. "He said, 'These guys are going to see who you are. Your teammates are going to watch every move you make.' They needed somebody to look to at the lowest points."
If Heaps had bawled like a baby, he would have been shunned. It didn't happen.
In part because of a fortuitous stretch of scheduling, and, in part, because the Cougars came together instead of blowing apart, they went on a streak in which they won five of their next six games, including a bowl victory. Alongside the wins, Heaps' performances were impressive.
"I became more of myself," he said. "I earned my stripes. I became more vocal. I wanted everyone to know this was important to me. I wasn't going to give up."
No longer is there a question about who the quarterback is at BYU, or who the team is.
"It's a lot of fun to be a leader of the football team, to know this is my offense," Heaps said. "I have a lot of control over what's going on. This team is very talented and very competitive. It plays with a lot of passion. We have a great mixture of guys. It's a matter of putting everything together. … Our identity as a whole is that this team will fight."
Heaps said the new offense, now under Doman's direction, is balanced and explosive, and, then, he exploded himself with the enthusiasm of the promise of another season:
"There's a lot of growth that I'll go through. I have to work on all the stuff, but I feel very comfortable with the offense. We're not on a pedestal, but we know what we're capable of. We have a strong belief in what we can do. We're not playing for a conference championship. We're playing for a national championship. …
"This team has all the talent in the world. That's why I'm so excited. We're just trying to grow and build. This team has the potential to do great things. It's in our hands it's our destiny to make it happen."
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He's at firstname.lastname@example.org.