Editor's note: Seventh in an occasional series exploring the pros and cons of starting a true freshman at quarterback, and the experiences of the six freshmen who started for BYU.
PROVO — It’s a small fraternity.
Those who have started as true freshmen at BYU comprise an exclusive club of sorts.
Because they lived it, Drew Miller and Jake Heaps have plenty of advice for future quarterbacks who may add their names to that list.
“The biggest thing is to focus on what’s important, what you can control. That’s all that matters,” Heaps said. “When you focus on those things, everything falls into place. When you listen to outside noises, that’s when things can go south. Just worry about working hard and putting in your best effort every single day, be a guy people can rely on.”
Miller counsels young quarterback to put football in its proper perspective.
“Go to school and focus on academics first. Worry about playing time second,” he said. “No matter what happens, if you’re the all-time leading passer at your school or you’re not, there’s going to be things that you want after college, like a wife and a family. You have to be prepared to take care of them with your college education. That’s the ultimate thing. You focus on that.”
Both Heaps and Miller ended up transferring from BYU after brief careers in Provo.
“You can transfer five or six times and then end up with nothing to show for it. Or you can take care of business in the classroom and do it the right way and be prepared for the real world,” Miller said. “So few guys end up playing in the NFL. That’s me on my soap box advice because it’s so important. I tell guys to hang in there and do everything the coaches say and to have great communication with your coaches and find out what you can do to improve.
"Do that and do it 100 percent. Worry about what you can control and make the best of your situation. When I wasn’t playing and I felt like I should be, I also thought, I am a college quarterback. I’m doing something so many people would love to do and can’t. Focus on that also. It’s a big blessing to do what you’re doing, whether you’re the starter or the backup.”
What about making the transition from high school to college for a true freshman QB?
Heaps said the speed of the game didn’t affect him. It was about feeling comfortable.
“This might sound odd, but to me, I didn’t feel a whole lot faster. It’s a misconception. When you get to the NFL, it is way faster,” he said. “The biggest thing is the level of responsibility that’s on the quarterback. It makes the game seem faster. You’re thinking more as a quarterback. It speeds the game up as a quarterback. You’re trying to slow down the preparation, recognizing the things that you’ve prepared for. And going out and playing the game and just relaxing. That’s the most difficult thing as a freshman.
"You’re learning the offense and the responsibilities that’s on you in a given moment in a game. Having situational awareness. There’s a thousand things that could be running through your mind. And, oh yeah, you’ve got to go snap the ball and hit the right guy. I think that’s the part that when you start feeling comfortable, things slow down for you. The game becomes the game. That’s the biggest jump in all of that, at least it was for me. Halfway through the year, that really started clicking for me in a big way.”
Ben Olson redshirted at BYU and didn’t play a down for the Cougars before transferring to UCLA following a mission.
What advice would he give a BYU true freshman quarterback?
“I would tell him on the record certain things and off the record certain things,” Olson said. “I look back on my career, and to this day, the most fun I ever had in football was in high school. The most influential coach I ever had was in high school. That’s where the game is still in a pure form. I would tell him to mentally prepare yourself. I don’t care who you are, you’re going to have your ups and downs. Great games, hopefully, and terrible games. You learn pretty quickly through the process who your true friends are and who’s behind you when things work themselves out at the end of the day.”