CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) This is how much Brad Kaaya enjoyed his three years at Miami: The California kid decided along the way to become a Florida resident, and make it his permanent home.
But first, the NFL awaits. And with that, the Hurricanes need a new starting quarterback.
Kaaya announced Monday night he is skipping his senior season at Miami and entering the NFL draft. The decision - he called it one of the toughest in his life - comes five days after Kaaya was MVP of the Russell Athletic Bowl, capping a record-setting career by leading the Hurricanes to their first bowl win in a decade.
''I have zero worries that The U will indeed be back,'' Kaaya said. ''No matter who is under center next season, I have no doubt in my mind they will have the platform and the resources around them to bring a major championship back to Coral Gables. Miami will forever hold a special place in my heart and I am proud to say that I will always be a Miami Hurricane.''
Kaaya leaves Miami as the school's career leader with 9,968 yards passing, 720 completions and 1,188 attempts. His four scoring passes in the 31-14 win over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl tied a Miami postseason record, and gave him 69 in his career - third in school history behind Ken Dorsey's 86 and Jacory Harris' 70.
In his last five games as a Hurricane, Kaaya threw 14 touchdown passes and only one interception. In his final college season, he was 261-of-421 passing for 3,532 yards and 27 touchdowns.
''On behalf of University of Miami Athletics I want to thank Brad for the wonderful job he did representing our program on the field, in the classroom and in the community,'' Miami athletic director Blake James said. ''We wish him the very best as he starts the next chapter of his football career.''
Kaaya mulled the decision for weeks, relying on input from family, longtime mentors and the NFL draft advisory committee before settling on going pro.
Dorsey was the last Miami quarterback to get drafted, and that was as a seventh-rounder in 2003. The last Miami quarterback to get taken before the seventh round was Craig Erickson, a fourth-rounder in 1992.
Kaaya hopes to change that.
''It's all credit to the guys around me,'' Kaaya said. ''Just like Ken Dorsey and even guys like Jacory, who broke records before me and stuff like that, those guys all had really good receivers to throw to, and they had really good targets. They had really good guys playing around them. I've had the benefit of having some good guys around me the past few years.''
He has been the starting quarterback at Miami from his very first game, winning the job only a couple months after getting to campus in 2014 as a true freshman. Miami was one of the very first schools to make a serious impression on Kaaya in the recruiting process, and it was more than football coaches in Coral Gables who saw something special in him.
''He's the real thing,'' former university president Donna Shalala said in 2014, before Kaaya was even named the starter - or taken a single snap for the Hurricanes. ''Excellent young man, wonderful student, an excellent student.''
She was right.
In addition to his football exploits, Kaaya was tapped into Miami's ''Iron Arrow'' honor society earlier this year. It is the highest honor Miami can award, and takes into account love for the school along with character, leadership, scholarship and humility. And Kaaya plans on resuming his studies at Miami down the line, finishing his degree in communications.
And now Miami has a huge hole to fill. The only other quarterback to appear in a game for Miami this season was Malik Rosier, who was 2 for 4.
Kaaya was asked after the bowl game how he wanted to be remembered.
''Just as a guy that, when things got tough, he didn't quit on The U,'' Kaaya said.