"The saddest thing in life is wasted talent." -- Robert DeNiro in A Bronx Tale
Jake Heaps may have been the most talented quarterback BYU has had in two decades, but physical talent doesn't always translate into success.
Heaps came in with credentials few quarterbacks are ever able to attain. He was the #1 high school quarterback in the country. He had the attitude, the ability and the hype to match. I admit, I bought into it. I was at his now infamous press conference, and after talking to this extremely confident teenage kid, I believed BYU had its next great quarterback.
But Heaps quickly found out the college game is much different than high school, and it takes more than a strong arm to win.
Bronco Mendenhall messed up the quarterback situation in 2010. Even he admitted it. He shouldn't have rotated Heaps and Riley Nelson every other series. Heaps was never able to get into a rhythm. Looking back, Heaps probably should have sat out the first part of the season until he proved he was ready to take over. When Nelson went down with a season-ending injury, Mendenhall had no choice but to anoint Heaps as the starter.
Many people are now looking back with 20/20 hindsight and saying Heaps was rushed into the starting job. Perhaps he was. But judging by his performance in practice and his overall demeanor as someone mature beyond his years, it's difficult to blame Mendenhall for playing Heaps right away.
We were all fooled by Heaps' success as a freshman. BYU's schedule was extremely soft when he took over. The best team he beat was UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. His stats were padded by weak opponents. Yet we all believed it was Heaps' talents winning those games, not the lack of competition.
So when Heaps took over the reigns for good at the start of this season, it looked like he was ready for a huge year. But with a front-loaded schedule, Heaps faced stronger and faster defenses, like Ole Miss and Texas, and his weaknesses were exposed. Heaps questioned his own decision-making. He held on to the ball too late, and forced bad throws into tight coverages. The kid who was confident enough to hold his own press conference to announces his college decision, lost his confidence altogether.
BYU beat Ole Miss and Central Florida not because of Heaps, but rather in spite of him. The defense played well enough to beat Texas, but Heaps' inability to move the offense consistently ultimately resulted in a loss. Then there was the debacle against Utah, and the writing was on the wall.
So, when Riley Nelson took over and led the Cougars to a dramatic comeback win over Utah State, the Heaps era was done. Mendenhall always admired Nelson's toughness and character more than Heaps' talents, and decided to ride Nelson for the rest of this season and next.
In the end, Heaps' decision comes as no surprise. If he was going to ride the bench next year, why not just transfer, sit out the year anyway and pick a program that's better suited for him. This isn't the first time a highly-touted quarterback has decided to leave BYU. Ben Olsen came in with credentials similar to Heaps, left for UCLA, flopped, and is out of football.
I think the lesson to be learned here is that we shouldn't put such high hopes on a high school kid. We shouldn't say he will be the next Steve Young or Ty Detmer before he's even thrown a pass in spring ball. It's fun to speculate, but it just creates expectations that can become overwhelming.
Perhaps BYU was never the right program for BYU from the beginning. Perhaps it was Brandon Doman's offense that just never meshed with Heaps' talents.
Through it all, Heaps has remained classy. When he was benched, he did not pout and blame anyone but himself. When he announced his transfer, he didn't belittle BYU.
Wherever Heaps ends up, I sincerely hope he succeeds. Who knows? Maybe he'll end up in a Pac-12 school and we'll get a chance to see him again. Let's just not expect him to win the Heisman.