PROVO, Utah (ABC 4 Sports) - Remember when Jake Heaps was supposed to be the second coming of Ty Detmer? BYU fans are trying to forget. Heaps never grasped the offense, lost his starting job and eventually transferred to Kansas.
After Riley Nelson led a miraculous comeback victory over Utah State in the fifth game of the season, the debate raged all throughout Utah as to who should be the starter, Nelson or Heaps? The controversy spilled over into the lockerroom.
"It became a distraction," said running back Michael Alisa. "We tried not to think about it, but it was always there. It was that big ugly elephant in the room than nobody wanted to talk about."
There's nothing to talk about now. Two weeks away from beginning his senior season, Nelson has become the unquestioned leader of the BYU team. Not bad for a guy who at one time was third on the depth chart last season.
"At this time last year, I was being written off as a career backup," Nelson said. "Everybody wanted me to switch positions. It all helped me to focus even more. So, that's carried over into this year."
"He's the man," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy. "We all are behind him. He's a warrior. He comes to practice everyday and works hard everyday."
But just because he has worked his way to the top, Nelson, who helped BYU win 9 of its final 10 games, isn't taking his stature for granted.
"I can't relax," Nelson said. "I've always been the guy who is in a position battle, who is scrapping and fighting. So, I'm taking that same approach."
"I think he's more anxious than anyone to play the season," said offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "In fact, the other day, I said, 'When are you going to smile?' I haven't seen him smile for like two months. He said he won't smile until January."
Nelson is not the prototypical BYU gunslinging quarterback who just sits back in the pocket and relies on his strong arm to make plays. He has more of a linebacker's mentality who is not afraid of getting out of the pocket and extend plays with his legs. But Nelson isn't concerned about what anybody thinks, as long as he wins.
"People can say what they want about me," he said. "I'm going to go out there and play hard. I just want to score touchdowns, running or throwing, it doesn't matter. If we execute at a high level, this offense cannot be stopped. A lot of that does fall on the quarterback's shoulders. I'm fully aware of that, and I'm preparing for a season that allows us to have a great opportunity for success."