Five stars, two transfers: Quarterback Jake Heaps discusses his multi-stop journey through college football
This is Part III of an eight-part series on the recruiting, development and evolution of quarterbacks. The next installment will be Friday with Lindsay Schnell's podcast with renowned QB guru Trent Dilfer.
Jake Heaps is perhaps best known as "The Quarterback Who Transferred A Lot." BYU, Kansas and Miami fans remember Heaps as a one-time member of their team's roster.
Once the country's top-ranked high school quarterback, Heaps played at all three schools during his college career and has been labeled by some as a "cautionary tale" for any high-level prospect and their parents. Now listed as the backup to Russell Wilson on the Seattle Seahawks—Heaps's hometown team—he took time to chat about his journey through college football and what he'd tell young quarterbacks now.
You can either listen to the interview in the podcast below and read a transcript of the interview beneath the podcast.
Campus Rush: So all these years later, how would you characterize your college experience if you had to sum it up in one word, or one sentence?
Jake Heaps: [laughs] A journey. I think that's what I would describe it as, a journey. And, you know, there were ups and downs; there were some great times and there were some low times. But the best thing about it is that through all those, I developed great relationships with a ton of different people and learned a lot. Learned a lot of football, a lot of offense and it's helped me in my career and I think it's helped me become the quarterback I am today.
CR: You transferred twice. You played at three different schools. Is there ever a part of you now—even though you're in a good situation, right, with the Seahawks—that you think, "I wish I would have toughed it out at … BYU or Miami" or wherever?
Heaps: Yeah, you know, I don't think of it in that regard, "tough it out." I wish it could have worked out. The way I think about it, I wish it could have worked out at BYU, and at Kansas and Miami was the last place I finished up at. But they didn't. And that's just part of the journey and the growing process; that I had to go on my own personal journey that led me to where I'm at. In that regard, I don't look back and regret the decisions I made because I firmly believe everything happens for a reason but if I had a choice, I wish I could have stayed in that one situation.
CR: When you see kids transferring now, do you empathize with them? Do you think, "Gosh, I know how hard that can be, I wish people weren't"—because people just get trashed on message boards.
Heaps: Absolutely. And that's exactly where I go to: Man, my heart goes out to the kid, cause I understand what it's like to be in that situation. Again, there's different circumstances. There are some kids that transfer just because they're not happy with the situation and it's not necessarily for the right reasons and there are other kids who are transferring because, you know, they are for the right reasons. People don't give them the benefit of the doubt and [instead] immediately attack their character and take it as a personal offense, people on the outside. And it's not a slap in the face to the university, it's not any of that. It's a kid, who's doing the best that he can, at that age. You're talking about kids who are 17, 20, 21 years old trying to do the best that they can and make the best decisions. It can be tough.
CR: When you look around college football, first of all, I would characterize it as, we have a transfer epidemic amongst college quarterbacks. Do you agree with that?
Heaps: I think it's been a trend in college football. And I think there's a lot of situations going on where guys go to a college and it just doesn't turn out to be the situation they were looking for and they're trying to make the best of it somewhere else. And I don't know if it's more available or kids understand the process a little bit more so they're transferring more, I couldn't quite give you the answer on that. But there definitely has been a trend and for some guys, it's worked and for others, it hasn't.
CR: Do you think it's a bad trend overall? Someone brought up a really good point to me: If every college student left when they faced adversity or didn't get what they wanted—and a lot of kids leave cause they're not the starter—no one would stay in college for four years at the same place.
Heaps: You know I think it's different for every kid. I think you've gotta look at each kid's situation, and that's the hard part, you know: We see it on the outside and we don't necessarily know what's going on inside. From my personal experience, I wound up transferring twice . And some of those situations, it was tough. People didn't understand quite what was happening, on the inside of what was happening, in my personal situation. With a lot of these kids, it's hard to rush to judgment. But there are circumstances where kids are just jumping ship, just because it's not going exactly the way they want it and it shouldn't be that way.
I think there are some circumstances where, you know, they have every right to do so, just like college coaches [do]. They get a better offer, they go in that direction and they all the kids stranded that committed to that coach. So I think there's different ways of looking at it. Personally, would I like to see every kid be able to enjoy that college experience at the school they [originally] committed to? Absolutely. But you have to look at each individual situation and try to understand where they're coming from.
CR: Do you think kids commit too early? It's weird, we see so many commit, decommit, commit, decommit.
Heaps: Yeah, college recruiting, high school recruiting, it's taken such a dramatic turn. You go [back] 10, 20 years and you didn't get commitments till, even from the top guys, they didn't commit until their senior year, maybe after their senior year. And now kids are getting offers as seventh, eighth graders, freshmen, and it puts a lot of pressure on kids. Then you've got fan bases that are giving you love, and pressuring you to go one way or the other and it's a lot to handle as a young kid. It's definitely a blessing, and a lot of people look at it as, "Hey, you should be grateful," but it's a lot. It's a lot to take on at such a young age. And I think kids try to make the best decisions with the information that they have and there's no right or wrong, there's no handbook on how to go about it. Some kids make certain decisions and realize, "Man, that wasn't exactly what I thought it was," and so I think that definitely has an aspect of it. Kids are, you know, forced to commit at a certain time rather than getting a chance to sit back and wait and go on all their visits and those kinds of things. The recruiting process has just changed. It's evolved.
CR: Last summer, your hometown paper, The Seattle Times, published a story chronicling your many moves. The subhead referred to you and your trek around college football as "a cautionary tale of how easily the tentacles of recruiting can warp reality for a teenager and his parents." "Cautionary tale"? Is that a phrasing you would use to describe yourself?
Heaps: Not at all. I think there's example, everyone has different examples, everyone has different stories, yeah, absolutely it could be different. If anything there's just examples of going through the process and not knowing the process and trying to to the best you can and afterward you can look back and say, "Man, maybe I would have done that different, or this different" but to say "a cautionary tale," I think that's a little bit far. But I'm here right now with the Seattle Seahawks enjoying every bit of it and competing my butt off to earn a spot here, and everything's been going great. I'm just continuing to fight and believe. It hasn't gone the direction I would have envisioned or dreamed coming out of high school, but that's not how life works sometimes. You've just gotta take what's given and honestly, it's made me a better person and player. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
CR: You do some private coaching now, or you did. So what do you say to kids, do you get phone calls sometimes, "Coach, I don't like it here, I want to leave"? What are the most important questions? How do you walk a kid through that if they call you?
Heaps: I mean, I think the biggest thing is figuring out what the situation is. Figuring out, hey is this kid leaving because he's just unhappy and he should stick it out, or if it's something that it's just not a good situation for him anymore. So I start asking a series of questions to really, truly figure out where they are at mentally. And that's a big part of it, and even with the high school kids figuring out how to navigate this recruiting process. It's trying to figure out how to go about it the right way and handle yourself the right way. Ultimately, that's why I got into this, because I wanted to help young kids, young quarterbacks, to be able to handle playing the position. Because you're not only a quarterback, you're the face of your high school community, but you're also the man at the university, as well. You have all eyes on you. That's a lot of pressure. And it's tough. So not only to be a great quarterback on the field but off the field, as well. That's been kinda my goal as I've been going about it.
[Editor's note: Because of scheduling, Heaps isn't sure yet if he'll be at this year's Elite 11 and The Opening Finals, which runs July 6–10 on Nike's campus in Beaverton, Ore. But like most top-ranked quarterbacks, Heaps has a background with the premier QB event in the country.]
Heaps: I was. I was actually Elite 11 MVP … so I graduated 2010, so it would have been the 2009 year. That was a great experience.
Honestly, as you get into this, you get the top guys in whatever aspect, high school, college, NFL, the biggest thing is that you just worry about trying to be the best YOU. If you start worrying about, what's this guy doing, what's this guy have, what do I not have? I think that's where you get lost in the shuffle. If you just focus on you and continue to work hard and trust yourself and believe in yourself, good things will happen. Especially when you get into these kind of events. And you'll see guys at the Elite 11 that are super talented but fall back because they're maybe not as confident as some of the other guys that step in. So you'll see a separation that happens with that. It's been interesting to see it as I've now stepped onto this side as well.
CR: The mental makeup of a quarterback is fascinating.
Heaps: Yeah, it really is. There's so much that about a quarterback that people don't understand. You have to be very intelligent, you have to be a good people person to be able to relate to your teammates, be a guy that they enjoy being around and want to go to battle for and also, being able to handle media and handle fans on the outside and making sure that you're a guy that people can count on and rely on in everything you do. It's a tough gig, it really is. And then you've gotta stand in the pocket on the field and take shots while guys are coming at you. It's the nature of the beast, but it's the best position in sports. That's why it's so hard to make it, but those guys that do, they know how to handle adversity.