Only an ostrich, with a brain smaller than its eyeballs and a tendency to run in circles to the delight of its predators, would not be able to sense the fears of a Kansas University football fan base.
Jake Heaps, the second coming of Dayne Crist in the hype department, will perform in front of a skeptical fan base coming off the disappointment of Crist’s dead-last statistical performance among 118 ranked Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.
Heaps is a bright young man, not an ostrich.
“Absolutely,” a smiling Heaps said of whether Crist’s one season in Kansas has lowered expectations on his successor. “Everybody says is it going to be the same thing all over again, this kind of stuff. You can’t worry about what people are saying. All you can do about that is go out there and win.”
Those intrigued by how Heaps will perform in this, his third college football season and first for KU after transferring from Brigham Young University, stretch from here to Utah.
“The fun part about it for me is everybody does have questions, everybody’s wondering even from back at BYU, ‘Is he going to be the same guy?’ I don’t really listen to all that, but I know those questions are out there,” Heaps said. “So I can’t tell people what it’s going to be like. All I can do is show people. I plan on having a good showing and getting people excited about Kansas football and that’s all I can do.”
Crist-hype sold tickets a year ago. That won’t work with Heaps because human nature suggests customers will embrace an attitude that says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Part of the hype on Crist centered on intangibles such as intelligence, maturity and leadership qualities. Those don’t mean much if they don’t translate to quality performances, so my interest in Heaps revolves around tangibles, and I love the first word receivers and coaches utter when asked to identify his greatest asset.
“His accuracy,” quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus said. “Jake’s an accurate passer. It is the backbone of the passing game. If you’re not accurate, you’re going to have a hard time having a good passing game.”
It’s not his only positive, Powlus said, just his loudest.
“He’s become more accurate as camp has gone on here,” Powlus said. “He’s got a strong arm, yeah. He moves his feet well, yeah. He sees the field, yeah. He can make reads, yeah. But he’s a really accurate passer.”
Heaps completed 57 percent of his passes for BYU, which isn’t great. He last played a game nearly two years ago and has been working on improving every day since.
Heaps said he needed to improve his knowledge of the game, his physical strength and his mental and emotional strength.
“My knowledge of the game has increased so much since I’ve been here with coach (Charlie) Weis,” Heaps said. “His expectations of what quarterbacks should know and making Mike IDs (where middle linebacker is) and protections. He has a very high standard for me on knowing when to pick up blitzes and seeing things. He pushes me. He pushes me a lot. And it’s made me a better football player. I recognize things I never would have recognized if I would have stayed at BYU.”
Brady Quinn at Notre Dame and Matt Cassel with the Kansas City Chiefs made huge strides under Weis. Heaps sounds confident he is in the process of becoming the next to do the same.
Next, Heaps cited strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple as a key to becoming stronger, inside and out.
“I’ve gained around 10 pounds and lost 12 percent body fat,” Heaps said. “I never even realized playing at BYU that I was like that. When I got here, everything just changed and he talked to me so much about my body and the way I can change things and how I can become better. Every Friday before games he would have his game-day lift and he would just kick my butt. Just absolutely kick my butt and I would be in the trash can all the time. He got me to continue to grind and push myself no matter how bad it hurt. He and I have grown really close throughout this whole process.”
Such intense workouts always are designed to change more than the body.
“He has helped me so much physically and mentally, just how to approach the game, how to approach every day and what mindset you need to have,” Heaps said.
Rivals.com ranked Heaps as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback coming out of Skyline High in Washington in 2010. He set a number of BYU passing records, but lost his job and his confidence. He expressed confidence that everything he lost he has found. Starting is not an issue at Kansas.
“Emotionally, coming off being the No. 1 quarterback in the country and winning three state titles, going 40-2 and hardly ever losing, I always thought that I was the best and carried myself that way,” he said. “Not in an arrogant way. I was confident in my abilities. And when I went to BYU and everything happened the way it did, when I left there, I was definitely not the same guy anymore emotionally. So that was really tough on me.”
He said he didn’t hide it well.
“Everyone that was close to me could hear it in me, just in the way I talked. My quarterback coach back in Washington, Taylor Barton, I called him on the phone, and he was like, ‘What is wrong with you? You’re not the same guy.’ Every day since I’ve stepped on campus here at Kansas I’ve continued to regain my confidence and regain that old me back,” Heaps said. “Now when I talk to him he’s so excited for me just because he hears that same passion and the same way I used to talk and I used to carry myself. I think that’s an important thing for my game to be confident in my abilities and what I’m capable of.”
Heaps has impressed in practice, but any true evaluation of a quarterback must come in games, when the massive linemen and twisted linebackers hunting him aren’t teammates. Crist, coming off of two serious knee injuries by the time he pulled a Kansas jersey over his pads, failed the live test.
A year ago, the one concern KU coaches had about Crist was how he would handle the heat.
And Heaps? Is the same concern a serious one for the coaches? (Don’t forget, left tackle, manned by four-year starter Tanner Hawkinson a year ago, is a question mark.)
“Not really,” Powlus said. “I don’t think there’s anything in Jake’s past that would make me wonder how he’s going to be when he gets hit. He’s a competitive guy. I’m not worried there.”
Heaps is well aware that whatever he or anybody else says about him will mean nothing if he doesn’t make those words look accurate. Still, he does like how he feels.
“I’ve really grown as a football player and a quarterback since coming here,” he said.