Quarterback Jake Heaps glad to be at Kansas, out of spotlight
August 28, 2012
By Jayson Jenks
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jake Heaps once commanded rooms the way only star quarterbacks can. Since his days at Skyline High School, his existence centered on the number one, a ranking given to him by recruiting sites.
He wasn’t just Jake Heaps; he was Jake Heaps, the former top-ranked quarterback prospect.
Now, at the University of Kansas, Heaps has no number attached to his name. In fact, this season will be lived mostly in the shadows.
Heaps will sit out this year after transferring from Brigham Young University. Just two weeks into fall practice, Heaps’ reps dropped significantly. His toil will come mostly in the weight room. He will watch Dayne Crist, himself a former top recruit, lead Kansas under new coach Charlie Weis. He will live the life of an understudy.
Here’s the thing: That’s just fine with Heaps.
As the former No. 1 prospect in the nation begins his second — and maybe his last — chance, he welcomes a new challenge, embraces it, even.
“It doesn’t matter where you place me, what you have me at, I’m my toughest critic,” said Heaps, who will have two years of eligibility remaining. “I’ve always been that way. I’m a perfectionist by nature.
“For me, it’s been a humbling experience to go through the situations at BYU. There have been high points and low points. To step in this situation, I feel very experienced from those. Now I have the opportunity to sit back and observe everything.”
He also starts over at a place where expectations won’t make him a constant target.
In fact, Heaps is so far from the spotlight that when 100 Kansas fans were informally polled about who Heaps was, 75 had no idea.
In the Big 12, Jayhawks football is overshadowed by traditional powers Oklahoma and Texas. Even on campus, the football team is second string to basketball.
It could be the perfect spot for Heaps to start anew.
“For me, this is a great opportunity to learn, get better and take advantage of some weak areas in my game,” he said. “Already at this point, I feel really confident in my development and what I’m doing.”
Heaps knows he needs to evaluate and work on his decision-making, one of his biggest weaknesses at BYU. Most of that work, though, will have to come watching practice while most of the reps will go to Crist and his backups.
“It’s about running through things in my head,” Heaps said. “How would I approach that? How would I come to the line of scrimmage and read the defense in this situation?”
Heaps had offers from Notre Dame, Louisiana State, Tennessee and Washington out of high school. He chose BYU and showed plenty of potential as a freshman.
A year later, Heaps started BYU’s first five games, but threw five interceptions and was benched at halftime of the fifth game. BYU replaced him with Riley Nelson.
“Those can be pretty heavy and burdensome expectations to try and live up to and to try and carry,” former NFL quarterback Brock Huard, who hosts a radio show on ESPN-710, said in December. “I think that just weighed him down this year.”
Heaps spent the rest of the year on the sideline, then left BYU.
“I needed to do it for my own personal progress,” Heaps said. “I really felt like I was at a position where I was stagnant. It was something that I needed, desperately needed, for myself and my growth.”
Kansas, though, wasn’t an easy sell. At least not to Heaps’ wife, Brooke, who had one year of school left at BYU.
“It definitely didn’t go over well,” Heaps said.
Yet Kansas offered something Heaps couldn’t get at many of the schools expressing interest. The Jayhawks weren’t preparing for a bowl game. While most of the schools talking to Heaps — “some big-time programs,” he said — wanted to wait until January to move, Weis wanted him right away.
And Heaps wanted to play for Weis, the former Notre Dame coach who recruited him in high school. Weis developed a reputation as an offensive guru.
“If you want to play at the next level,” Heaps said, “he’s definitely the guy to get you right and playing at the next level.”
So now Heaps gets his chance to take that step. He has been praised by his coaches for his intelligence and understanding of the game. He frequently discusses scenarios with Crist, a former starter at Notre Dame. And he has done all of these things to change a career that didn’t go as predicted out of high school.
Only, here’s the thing: That’s just fine with Heaps, too.
“I believe I have all the skill sets,” he said. “I know that I can play at this level. And I know I can play very well at this level. Now it’s about getting me to do all the little things before I take the next step.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org