Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya did not hesitate when asked where the offense needs to improve next season.
“I think the quarterback position could be a lot better,” the modest sophomore said at a community outreach event Wednesday in Overtown’s Gibson Park.
Most quarterbacks one year out of high school would be pleased just seeing the field — or even gathering a wealth of knowledge on the playbook and improving in practice while red-shirting behind an upperclassman.
But not Kaaya, even though his freshman campaign saw him accumulate 3,198 yards, 26 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions and a 58.5 completion percentage — all while posting a higher passing efficiency than the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick in Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
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Although the 6-4, 215-pound cool kid from California might not be entirely content with his play as a freshman — despite having every reason to be — his insatiable desire to get better is commendable. Also in his favor, he has now gone through the college experience for a calendar year since first enrolling last summer.
“I’m more mature. I know how things go,” Kaaya said. “With guys coming in now, I can tell them what to expect and give them advice whereas last year I’m coming in, bullets are flying, moving 100 miles per hour.”
While playing with house money last season, getting thrown right into the fire with a nationally televised debut on the road at Louisville on Labor Day, the stakes have risen now for Kaaya. There are even betting odds on him winning the Heisman next season.
According to Bovada, he currently stands in a tie for 21st at 40-to-1 odds. A hashtag of #HE15MAN, embedding his No. 15 in the name of college football’s most prestigious award, has gained momentum on social media.
“All that preseason hype is cool, but I don’t look at it that much,” Kaaya said. “I just play football.”
But with the expectations come greater responsibility, and teammates have noticed an increase in his leadership role from spring football to offseason workouts.
“He does everything he can for his teammates,” said tackle Kc McDermott, who came in with Kaaya in the class of 2014. “If you call him at 2 o’clock in the morning and say, ‘Brad, I need your help,’ he’ll be right there. He takes care of everyone on and off the field. He makes sure everyone is on time for a meeting.”
Kaaya said the Canes are taking a “dog mentality” into summer workouts, which includes player-driven practices of one-on-one sessions, 7-on-7 and even full-on team drills.
A major concern for UM fans is some of the youth on the team after sending seven players to the NFL Draft and having several other key contributors graduate and sign with an NFL team.
“Whenever you have a team that has guys go to the NFL, you ask, ‘How are you going to replace him?’ ” Kaaya said. “There’s always guys working hard and coming up.”
For one, Kaaya will no longer have star running back Duke Johnson to hand the ball off to, but he called the competition at the position, led by junior Gus Edwards and sophomore Joe Yearby, “solid” and also said he has been impressed with Mark Walton, an incoming freshman out of Booker T. Washington.
One position in particular that will be young and inexperienced will be the offensive line protecting him. Starters Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott are all NFL bound, so in comes a group of five freshmen who enrolled in the summer — Tyler Gauthier, Brendan Loftus, Hayden Mahoney, Tyree St. Louis and Bar Milo, a high school teammate of Kaaya at West Hills (California) Chaminade.
“All those freshman O-linemen are huge,” Kaaya said. “Everyone sees them and thinks they’re already juniors — pretty big dudes. Once they get all the plays down and get stronger in the weight room, all those O-linemen we had come in should be pretty well off.”
Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling, both touted second-year players, are poised to contribute, and sophomore Nick Linder and junior Alex Gall have been identified as leaders according to multiple players.
On Wednesday, Kaaya also ran the Miami Hurricanes’ Snapchat account. He chronicled his experiences on campus and in the community, helping at the football team’s Deserve Victory Tour where players come out to local parks in Miami-Dade and Broward to take youth players through drills.
“I love it, especially in certain neighborhoods where maybe there’s not a lot of opportunity or certain kids are getting driven all sorts of ways and there’s distractions,” Kaaya said. “It’s good for them to see college guys or guys that came from similar backgrounds out here doing well, and I’m sure it inspires them. They see a Miami Hurricane and say, ‘I want to be like that one day.’ ”
The team held one of four clinics at Gibson Park in Overtown on Wednesday. On Monday, the Canes held another at Vincent Torres Memorial Park in Lauderdale Lakes, and Thursday they will be at Betty T. Ferguson Park in Miami Gardens.
Tuesday’s scheduled visit to Loren Roberts Park in Florida City was postponed because of weather.