PAISLEY, Fla. -- If Jake Heaps had acted alone, he wouldn't have announced his intent to sign with Brigham Young in a Salt Lake City sports bar. But because the Sammamish, Wash., quarterback had two fellow blue-chippers with him, he saw a chance to send a broader message about the future of BYU's program.
So on June 4, Heaps announced that he had chosen BYU over most of the schools in the top 15. Arlington, Texas, receiver Ross Apo said he had reconsidered his commitment to Texas. He wanted to be a Cougar. Westlake Village, Calif., linebacker Zac Stout then announced his preference for BYU over offers from Arizona, Nebraska and Oregon State.
"I wasn't going to do the big press conference if it was just by myself," Heaps said during Football University's Top Gun camp. "That's not the type of guy I am. Having those guys with me shows that BYU is taking the next step in recruiting."
Heaps laughed about BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall's comments about recruiting rankings last week at Mountain West media days. "Some guy that drives a pizza truck at night and then is giving stars to recruits in the day, and he's an expert?" Mendenhall cracked last week, according to the The Salt Lake Tribune. "I don't adhere to that philosophy." The recruitniks have a bit more respect for Mendenhall than he has for them. If he isn't careful, the Cougars could find themselves in the upper reaches of the utterly-meaningless-yet-still-somehow-important recruiting rankings.
Mendenhall's next step is a push for more players who don't belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Heaps is more than happy to assist in the recruitment of non-Mormons. "Bronco has laid down the foundation. He's been able to establish what the program is all about and what's acceptable and what's not," Heaps said. "Now, we're going after non-LDS recruits. That's where you see the bigger difference. That's where you see us start competing with the Oklahomas and Floridas and SCs of the world. That's the main goal. We want to get that team speed."
On July 3, the Cougars got a commitment from cornerback Corby Eason, a cornerback at Erie Community College in Orchard Park, N.Y. Eason, from Columbus, Ga., is not a member of the church. Of course, the Cougars have had non-LDS stars before. The most famous is quarterback Jim McMahon, who did not leave the school on good terms. Last year, McMahon told SI's Dan Patrick he was expelled for honor code violations -- conveniently enough -- after he'd used up his eligibility.
Heaps said he gets questions from non-LDS recruits about the honor code, which forbids swearing, the consumption of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages and premarital sex. "Really, the honor code isn't that bad," Heaps said. "It isn't too much to ask. ... The honor code seems like a big, scary thing, but when it comes down to it, it's about living a clean life."
Like most LDS players, Heaps faced plenty of questions during his recruitment about whether he would serve a two-year mission when he turned 19. Most schools, he said, were not thrilled at the prospect. BYU encourages all students to serve a mission, but Heaps said he may delay his because he hopes to compete for the starting job as a freshman. "I'm probably not going to go on a mission," he said. "I've got a good chance of coming in early in January and competing. [The mission] is always open."
Heaps said he can't wait to see how the Cougars fare against Oklahoma in Dallas and against Florida State in Provo early this season. Those games should provide a glimpse of how far Mendenhall's recruiting has come, and they should give Heaps and the other future Cougars an idea of how much further they have to go to reach their goal of competing for a national title in spite of their non-BCS status.
"The attitude is we're not a non-BCS school," Heaps said. "We're going to get after it like any other school."
Moreno Valley, Calif., defensive end/tight end Ronald Powell's favorite part of the Top Gun camp was taking on massive Chapel Hill, N.C., offensive tackle Robert Crisp. "He's a beast," said Powell, who is considering Florida, USC, UCLA and Tennessee, among others.
Powell, a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder ranked the nation's No. 1 defensive end and the No. 3 overall prospect by Rivals.com, said he wants to challenge himself by playing against the best. In other words, he wants a crack at St. Paul, Minn., offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, whom Rivals.com considers the nation's top prospect at any position. "I've been wanting to see Seantrell, man," Powell said.
That matchup probably will have to wait until January. Assuming Powell and Henderson choose to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and not its ESPN competitor, they probably would get plenty of chances to match up at practice.
It would be a fascinating matchup. I haven't seen Henderson play football in person, but I did watch him dominate future Kentucky power forward Daniel Orton in a basketball game at the Peach Jam last year. Powell, meanwhile, is an intriguing specimen. He's an exceptionally quick defensive end, and judging by his drills at tight end, he's fast enough to cover a tight end or a running back one-on-one.
During a break in the camp Thursday, several of the nation's top prospects sat at a counter watching curiously as Kelley Spence mixed protein shakes. Spence, the pro sports coordinator for supplement company EAS, said she's constantly surprised how little young athletes know about nutrition.
"It's amazing to see and to hear athletes who have no idea about nutrition," Spence said. "We preach whole food nutrition before we talk about supplementation."
Spence said before they ever worry about supplement bars or shakes, young athletes should try to eat five to six smaller meals a day loaded with protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. That way, Spence said, they'll get the most out of their workouts. "We know that they're busy, and they're not going to eat perfect," Spence said. "But making better food choices is going to be key."
After that, they can get used to the flavor of protein shakes, because they'll be drinking plenty of them when they get to college. Thursday, some of the players approached the shakes cautiously, but their cups landed on the counter empty. "They actually really do like the shakes," Spence said.