The freshman phenom from West Hills, Calif., has already made his mark at the University of Miami.
And so has the graduate transfer out of Kansas via BYU.
Brad Kaaya, who enrolled at UM in May before even taking part in his high school graduation ceremony, is officially a major player in the Hurricanes’ quarterback race.
And so is fifth-year veteran Jake Heaps.
The Hurricanes unveiled their first depth chart of 2014 on Thursday, and next to “QB” it says “BRAD KAAYA OR JAKE HEAPS.”
UM coach Al Golden, who spoke to the media Thursday evening, said the order of the quarterbacks’ names is meaningless and that the race to determine the starter for the Sept. 1 opener at Louisville “is too close to call.”
Joked Golden of Kaaya being listed first: “I’m not very good at the alphabet, I guess.”
Heaps, the 6-1, 210-pound transfer, arrived in Coral Gables in June with four years of college experience, one of them sitting out, per NCAA rules, after leaving BYU for the Jayhawks. He was a 5-star player ranked the nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback in high school by Rivals.com.
Kaaya, a 6-4, 218-pound All-American out of West Hills Chaminade-Madonna, was 23-3 as a starter at Chaminade and threw for a school-record 3,855 yards and 27 TDs as a senior. He led Chaminade to a state championship last season.
Kaaya spent almost the entire morning practice Thursday with the first-team offense and started the day under center.
Heaps was mostly with the second team.
“I thought Jake had a really good morning [Thursday],” Golden said. “You really have to take into consideration who’s out there in each series and who they’re going against. It’s really hard to quantify that into a little sound byte. Maybe Brad was a little ahead [in Wednesday’s scrimmage] and Jake answered today, whatever the case may be.
“But they’re really [Nos.] 1 and 2 — either way.”
Golden said there will be a “cutdown day” following Monday’s second scrimmage, and then the final starters will be revealed in game week. He added that “by no means” is this “just a two-man race” and that he is intent on developing all of the quarterbacks.
When told before the depth chart was released that coaches were about to narrow the race to two frontrunners, Heaps said he wasn’t worried.
“I’m just going out there and focusing on me and every rep that I get and trying to make it count. What coach decides, that’s out of my hands. All I can do is just go out there and execute the best I can.”
Kaaya will be available to the media for the first time Friday — media day. That is the only day of the season that Golden allows true freshmen to speak to the media — until they have played in a game.
“You wouldn’t think Brad is a freshman quarterback,” said starting tailback Duke Johnson, who noted that he experienced no post-scrimmage soreness in his previously broken right ankle. “The way he comes in and handles the offense, the checks. He’s able to read defenses. He doesn’t do it as well as maybe the older guy, Jake. But he does it exceptionally well [for] a freshman.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Olsen and true freshman Malik Rosier were not listed on the depth chart, nor was fifth-year senior Ryan Williams, who is rehabilitating from reconstructive knee surgery. Golden said Williams could be full-speed soon and will eventually be a factor.
Besides Kaaya, the only two true freshmen listed as first-team players on the depth chart are 6-2, 238-pound defensive end Trent Harris of Winter Park, Fla., and 6-5, 310-pound right tackle Trevor Darling out of Miami Central High.
Darling took freshman Kc McDermott’s spot this week after McDermott wore a red, no-contact jersey Monday. Also on the offensive line, redshirt sophomore Hunter Wells took over Jon Feliciano’s spot at first-team left guard. Feliciano was in a red jersey Monday.
Behind Johnson at tailback is true freshman Joe Yearby, followed by Gus Edwards.
Defensively, true freshman end Chad Thomas, a Miami Booker T. Washington High graduate, is the co-backup along with Jelani Hamilton to starting end Anthony Chickillo. Calvin Heurtelou and Olsen Pierre are the first-team tackles. The starting cornerbacks are Tracy Howard and Ladarius Gunter, with safeties Dallas Crawford and Deon Bush.