In a somewhat surprising move, Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden named true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya the starter for the 2014 season-opener at Louisville.
Kaaya had been locked in a battle with transfer Jake Heaps, whose collegiate road has included stops at BYU and Kansas before veering toward South Florida. Heaps was long considered the unspoken favorite after 25 total starts in 33 combined appearances at his first two destinations.
But Kaaya stepped up throughout August and outplayed three competitors, emerging as only the second opening-game true freshman starter for the 'Canes since the Howard Schnellenberger era began.
Who exactly is Kaaya, and how did he wind up at a school approximately 2,700 miles away from his home?
A 6'4", 215-pound gunslinger from West Hills, CA, Kaaya was rated the seventh-best pro-style quarterback and No. 141 overall prospect by the 247Sports composite rankings. Miami offensive coordinator James Coley handpicked Kaaya and was the first to offer the 4-star recruit a scholarship.
Kaaya led Chaminade to a state championship in 2013, completing 62.2 percent of his attempts for 3,853 yards and 27 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
He was a finalist in the Elite 11 and appeared in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. After his recruitment built significant momentum as signing day approached, Kaaya stuck with Miami over UCLA, USC and Boise State.
His mother, Angela Means, played "Felicia" in the movie Friday, which starred Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, among others.
Kaaya's ascent to the starting position is rather impressive considering he was not an early enrollee but rather a mid-May arrival. Ryan Williams' unfortunate injury in the spring and Kevin Olsen's poor overall performance presented an opportunity to the freshman, and he never looked back.
Beyond his physical attributes, Kaaya impressed fellow Hurricanes with his mental makeup, none more impressive than top NFL prospect Denzel Perryman.
Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald writes Golden was satisfied with Kaaya's off-field work translating to fall 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.
A young player looking to establish himself may be tempted to become an All-American on his first career possession, but Kaaya doesn't have to be the guy. Safeguarded by Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley, the first-year starter will get plenty of help from his offensive weapons.
Johnson—the unquestioned current star of the program—knows he carries the burden, no matter who is handing him the ball.
"He's ready. He's shown them enough to get the nod, but at the end of the day, like I've said before, my role doesn't change," Johnson said of Kaaya, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I'm the same guy and I'll have the pressure on me, whoever's the quarterback."
Coley, a sophomore receiver, said the offense is preparing to simplify the game for Kaaya, as noted by David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required).
"We don't look at it as pressure, but we want to perform well for him in order to make it easy for him," Coley said. "We are going to surround him with guys who can make plays."
"If you can play, you can play," Johnson said, speaking from a position of experience, via Chirinos. Two seasons ago, Johnson nearly broke the program record for single-season all-purpose yards. "Freshman is just a title. You're a freshman in school. That's your class, but that doesn't define the way you play. It doesn't define how you play."
Clearly, the first-year starter has the full support of his teammates and coaches heading into the 2014 regular season. Now, it's a matter of Kaaya growing into the role he earned.
"He's not a freshman anymore," Coley emphatically stated, per Chirinos. "He's the starting quarterback at the University of Miami."
Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.
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