A true freshman will lead the way.
Finally, a week and a day before the University of Miami’s season opener at Louisville, Hurricanes coach Al Golden ended a “too-close-to-call” battle Sunday for the most important position in football.
Brad Kaaya, 18 and fresh out of high school in Southern California, is the new starting quarterback for the Hurricanes. He will become UM’s first true freshman quarterback starter for an opener since Jacory Harris was anointed in 2008 when former quarterback Robert Marve was suspended.
“At the end of the day, as I told him,” Golden said, “He’s our quarterback. He’s not a freshman quarterback, he’s the University of Miami quarterback.”
Kaaya beat out Jake Heaps, 23, who left his high school in Sammamish, Washington, ranked the nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback. He played his first two years at BYU, spent the past two years at Kansas and transferred to UM this summer.
“They were both very positive,” said Golden, when asked about Heaps’ reaction to the news earlier Sunday. “They’ve been great the entire competition, and they know it’s an ongoing thing. It’s all about performance and execution.
“That’s where we are today. Brad is the starter going into the opener, and Jake knows he needs to support the starter and get ready to go.”
Kaaya, who is 6-4 and 212 pounds, was an All-American at Chaminade College Preporatory in West Hills, California. He led Chaminade to a 23-3 record as a starter and threw for a school-record 3,855 yards during a state-championship senior season.
Golden said Kaaya “nudged” Heaps for the job, but he has been raving about the freshman since camp began Aug. 5. The announcement is even more impressive considering the freshman didn’t arrive on campus early enough to participate in spring football.
“It was a tight battle,” Golden said. “It was a battle that none of us could have [predicted] at the end of June or beginning of July or maybe even at the beginning of camp. The biggest thing was we saw how much he was devoted to it, how many sacrifices he made, how well he learned and how it translated to the field. A guy can be good in the film room or be good out of the book, and then it doesn’t translate. But it has translated here. We’ve put him in very tough situations.
“We’ve put him under the gun, his completion percentage is good, he’s protected the ball really well, he can articulate the offense, he’s very poised.”
What does this mean for Ryan Williams, the fifth-year senior who would have been the starter had he not torn his anterior cruciate ligament in April?
“As I said all along, that’s a medical issue right now,” Golden said. “When it’s not a medical issue anymore and he can do everything that we need our quarterbacks to do, then we’ll look at it in every angle and see what’s best for our football team. But right now that’s not part of the equation. His health right now, his strength, his ability to rehab and return is paramount for him. Once he does that, we’ll evaluate the situation.”
Williams and Heaps were not available for comment Sunday. Per team policy, Kaaya will be made available after playing Louisville on Labor Day night.
UM offensive coordinator James Coley said Kaaya’s “ability to see the entire field” separated him from Heaps.
“ I saw a kid with a lot of ability that showed flashes,” Coley said. “As camp went on it went from flashes to ‘Whoa!’ to ‘I can see it’ to ‘You know what? He’s the guy.’ ”
Golden acknowledged his decision to immediately reveal his quarterback choice rather than attempting to be secretive.
“I would rather be up-front and honest,” he said.
The Kaaya news quickly spread among social media followers.
Kaaya’s mother, Angela Means, posted on Twitter: #FromTheStartToTheStarter #GoBGo, with a photo of his 2002 Eagles youth football card. In the photo, Kaaya wore No. 15 — the same number he now wears for the Canes.
The UM sports information office later posted a photo-shopped image with Kaaya’s name replacing “Calle” on the famous “Calle Ocho” street sign.
Some even began posting photo-shopped images of “Kaaya the Messiah.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Jacob Feldman contributed to this report.