BYU is now Jake Heaps' team

Their relationship began when Jake Heaps was a sophomore in high school. Heaps set foot on the BYU campus to attend a football camp, and right then Brandon Doman knew instantly the player before him would turn out to be a star.

Doman was not exactly in the minority there. Heaps became one of the top quarterbacks in his recruiting class out of Issaquah, Wash., a player so highly touted, powerhouse schools from the West Coast to the East Coast wanted him. Many thought hometown Washington would win out in the fierce recruiting battle that ensued.

But BYU had something Washington did not -- Doman. The two forged an instant bond.

"He trusted me more than everyone else," Doman says now. "He related to me in a unique way because of my experiences as a quarterback at BYU. I played in the NFL. He related to me because of our faith, and the demands placed on him. He bounced things off me he could not ask other coaches."

Indeed, Doman turned out to be a big reason why Heaps chose the Cougars. So it is understandable why there is little trepidation about what awaits them this season. Doman was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator to his young protégé, and the strong relationship the two already have should make the move rather seamless when the season begins.

"I’ve been around a lot of great quarterbacks coaches, and he’s one of the best there is," Heaps says. "To be able to be around him and pick his brain and to be able to to have the opportunity to not only have him as my coach but now as the offensive coordinator, being able to be on the same page and work together, it’s just phenomenal. We’re very close. It gets as close as you can get between a coach and a player."

Doman is implementing an offense that should hearken back to the days when he played from 1998 to 2001. Not so much spread, but more a version of the West Coast offense, there will be some noticeable differences. Heaps will be dropping back to pass from center, a new development for a shotgun-style quarterback.

But chief among the differences from last season is having one quarterback under center. Last season, the Cougars floundered in the first half of the season because coach Bronco Mendenhall could not decide between Heaps and Riley Nelson -- more of a runner than a passer. Mendenhall has repeated that winning the opener against Washington was the worst thing that could have happened, because it gave him a false sense of the merits of a two-quarterback system.

After Nelson was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, the team was turned over to the true freshman Heaps. He got better as the season progressed and closed the season by setting a BYU bowl record with four touchdown throws in an easy win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. He finished the year throwing for 2,316 yards and 15 touchdown passes -- pretty paltry numbers for a team used to having a 3,000-yard passer.

Much of what happened last season was out of Heaps' control. But he went into the spring and summer with the knowledge that he would be the full-time starter in 2011 and acted that way. Heaps took on more of a leadership role and worked to get better. He put on 15 pounds to help increase the strength in his upper and lower body and to help him with the rigors of being a starting quarterback.

Heaps also spent more time watching film and working out with his receivers. BYU was plagued by dropped balls last season, perhaps in part because Heaps did not have as many reps with his receivers during fall practice and the early part of the season. Now, he feels as if his receivers recognize the type of ball he throws and where he is going with it. That has helped him grow as a leader, even though he is just a sophomore.

"I've seen more confidence, more leadership. He's really grown into his role as a quarterback," offensive tackle Matt Reynolds said. "That position is just naturally one of the leaders of the team and he's embraced that and grown into that."

The return of Heaps has BYU fans excited, especially with the talent at the skill positions. Indeed, Doman said, "People think Jake is better than Jake is right now" in the hopes of perhaps tempering some of the expectations. But there is no question Heaps has the talent, confidence and ability to get BYU back to a 10-win season.

And he has the perfect coordinator to help him get there.