University of Miami

Former UM quarterback Brad Kaaya headed for the NFL — like it or not

Former University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, photographed on Wed., April 12, 2017, holds the all-time passing yardage record for the Hurricanes.
Former University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, photographed on Wed., April 12, 2017, holds the all-time passing yardage record for the Hurricanes. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Go ahead. Try telling former University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya that his critics say he gets frazzled in the pocket, can’t take the pressure and should have stayed for his senior season instead of entering the NFL Draft.

He’ll eagerly whip out his cell phone and show you proof to the contrary.

“Go back to 2015 Florida State, first drive, first play,’’ Kaaya said in a sit-down interview with the Miami Herald. “I scramble out and make a 22-yard completion to Stacy Coley.

“Look. We’re in the red zone, safety Trey Marshall comes free, in my face, I get blasted, he gets a targeting call and I complete a first down to Braxton Berrios for 14 yards. Here. I’ll go even slower. Same game: that’s defensive end DeMarcus Walker. I’m completing the ball to Rashawn Scott for a long gain.

“Here’s one: first play against Pittsburgh in 2015,’’ a breathless Kaaya continues, linebacker Nicholas Grigsby bearing down on him via his cell. “Completion to David Njoku.”

“Here’s one right there in the snow against Washington State the end of my sophomore season…Here’s one going back to my freshman year against Virginia Tech – a completion to Duke Johnson on third down…’’

And so it goes.

Kaaya got knocked around so much the past couple of years that you’d think he’d still be trying to get up.

But except for missing one college game with a concussion, all Kaaya did was hang in there to become the Hurricanes’ most prolific passer in history, throwing for 9,968 yards and rocketing past UM greats such as former record-holder Ken Dorsey and Heisman Trophy winners Gino Torretta and Vinny Testaverde.

“He’s just awesome,’’ former UM tight end David Njoku, who also left the Canes early and could be a first-rounder on Thursday night, said of Kaaya, 21. “He’s the man behind it all. We’ve been best friends since I came here. He’s a true leader, a great teammate, works really hard and is probably the toughest football player I’ve ever met.’’

As pleasant and energetic and eager to talk football as always, Kaaya, the only UM quarterback to ever throw for at least 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, spoke of soon realizing his childhood dream of playing in the NFL, and how he has heard the criticism and worked hard to correct any shortcomings.

But he is confident he made the right decision, and no matter when he gets selected this weekend – the projections are all over the place, several in the third round and some as late as the sixth – he is determined to get in an NFL uniform and start learning again.

Remember, five-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady, 39, another 6-4 Californian who played for a UM (Michigan), didn’t get drafted until the sixth round in 2000. Brady’s coach, Patriots’ guru Bill Belichick, is a guy who likes his Hurricanes and was the only head coach present for the Canes’ Pro Day on March 29.

The Patriots, one of three teams Kaaya hadn’t interacted with as of mid-April, have two third-round picks, one fourth, two fifth, a sixth and two seventh-round picks come this weekend.

“In terms of the round I’ll get picked, I’ll be fine,’’ Kaaya said. “My biggest thing is ending up in a good situation. I’d love to go somewhere I could change the culture for the better, similar to how I tried to do it at Miami. But wherever I end up, I’ll still make the most of my opportunity.

“I’ve been playing this game for 16 years and I’ve believed in myself every step of the way. So, I’m not going to let someone on TV tell me I can’t play football.

“That’s outlandish.’’

Kaaya said he left UM early because he “saw an opportunity’’ he felt he could “make the most of’’ sooner instead of later. “Tomorrow is never guaranteed.’’

Many have told him the Canes would be a top-10 team if he had chosen to stay, not to mention he’d improve his draft status.

“Nothing is guaranteed,’’ he reiterated. “It’s football. It’s a violent sport. It’s not even a guarantee that we’d win the [Atlantic Coast Conference] championship or go undefeated. Football is a crazy game. The ball is not round. It does not bounce the right way all the time.’’

Represented by CAA (Creative Artists Agency) agents Tom Condon and R.J. Gonser, Kaaya, who withdrew from classes after the season ended, has made the most of his time before the draft. He was featured on his own ESPN segment of Jon “Gruden’s QB Camp” and beat out several top quarterbacks in the accuracy competition of the State Farm All-Star Football Challenge at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. And according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kaaya reinforced his intelligence by earning the NFL’s highest Wonderlic score – an IQ test of sorts – among quarterbacks entering the draft.

“I really had a lot of fun with this kid,’’ Gruden told ESPN’s Trey Wingo. “He’s very mature… We have a lot of NFL players that contribute to the show and they all agree the guy can really throw the football. He’s not a run-around, read-option, run-to-the-line-of-scrimmage quarterback. This is a man that needs to get in the huddle like the old-school Hurricane quarterbacks played the game. He has good down-the-field accuracy, he has touch and timing – and he’s sharp.’’

Kaaya is expected to become the first drafted quarterback from Miami since Ken Dorsey was taken in the seventh round in 2003. He had mixed reviews at the NFL Scouting Combine, but most believe he’ll be an asset if he goes somewhere he has time to learn under a veteran.

“I’m just hoping he goes to a good situation, one where he can sit and develop for a while,’’ said Kaaya’s longtime personal coach Rudy Carpenter, “…You’ve got teams like the Chargers, Saints, Steelers, Kansas City, Houston – a lot of teams that maybe they’re not in need of a quarterback starter Day One, but in a year or two years down the line they’re in need for a guy.’’

Ready for his new journey, Kaaya said coach Mark Richt gave him “complete freedom’’ to make his decision.

Coach Richt said, ‘Do what’s in your gut. I’d love to have you back, but at the end of the day I want you to do what you feel in your heart is best.’ He said he wanted me to be at peace. I appreciate that.

“Even though there were a lot of ups and downs and things didn’t always go our way, coming to UM was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.’’

Kaaya will spend the weekend back home in Los Angeles with his mother, father and other family members.

His mom, Angela Means Kaaya, is a former actress who played the part of the neighborhood, pot-smoking Felicia in the 1995 cult comedy “Friday.’’ The movie spurred the catchphrase “Bye, Felicia,’’ as a dismissive goodbye to someone with whom you don’t want to associate.

When Kaaya was told he now was likely even more famous than “Felicia,’’ he smiled.

“I hope so,’’ he said.

Said his mother: “He’s going to eclipse me in every way.”

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