As spring practices get rolling this week there are numerous questions that this BYU team faces. But, there is none bigger than who will be the starting quarterback.
Whether you liked Max Hall or not, he was the winningest quarterback in BYU history, and BYU fans got used to winning during his time in Provo. So whoever takes his place better find a way to win fast or he may lose some support.
There are three candidates for the coveted position of starter: Riley Nelson, James Lark, and Jake Heaps.
In preparation for the tough decision that the coaching staff has to make let’s compare the three quarterbacks in the following areas; size, athleticism, and experience.
Lark and Heaps are both 6’2” with Nelson being the short man at 6’. This may not seem like a big difference, but every inch counts when you are trying to look, and more importantly throw, over those huge offensive linemen.
Lark is the heaviest of the three at 219 with Nelson in the middle at 207, and Heaps bringing up the rear at 205. Not really enough difference here to make a huge difference. Now that Heaps is on campus and participating in a college weightlifting program I would guess he will add some bulk.
There slight difference in build shouldn’t greatly impact any of the three, and the more experienced offensive line should give better protection than last year.
All three quarterbacks are extremely athletic being able to run and throw the ball well.
Heaps is seen as more of a pro-style quarterback, but did rush for 30 touchdowns in high school. He certainly can throw the ball too as he proved by racking up over 9,000 passing yards, 114 touchdowns, and only 18 interceptions as a three-year starter.
Nelson showed us his style in limited action last season. It is difficult to know how the offense would be run differently with him in there all the time. They would likely include more draws to take advantage of Nelson’s running abilities.
While his passing numbers may not be quite as prolific, he still holds the record for career passing touchdowns in Utah; a record which he shares with Lark at 79.
Lark is equally well-rounded as evidenced by the fact that he shares the aforementioned touchdown record while rushing for 650 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior in high school.
This is where the real differences in these quarterbacks can be found.
Nelson obviously has the most experience in the BYU system since he is the only one that has played in it. He played in seven games going 7-10 and rushed the ball 21 times. It is hard to say that this means nothing, but in all reality it does.
All of his playing time was when the outcome was no longer in doubt. It is also impossible that he will run the ball twice as much as he throws it, so obviously the scheme was altered to fit the game situation.
Nelson also started eight games as a freshman before his mission at Utah State, but that was a long time ago in a different system so I don’t give that much weight. Having the Division 1 experience certainly won’t hurt, but it definitely doesn’t give him a giant advantage.
Lark is just back from a mission, though he has plenty of time to get back into game shape. Historically, return missionaries don’t do so well as quarterbacks at BYU, but Max Hall kind of blew that one up. I still don’t know that I would trust this team with a kid that has been out of football that long.
He did redshirt his freshman year so he has some experience with the BYU system, but he hasn’t played in a game in five years, so I just don’t see him really competing early on. He also played in a small town so I am not sure how quickly he will adjust to playing at such a high level.
Heaps is coming off a prolific high school career in which he led his team to three straight state titles going 40-2 as a starter. He was rated the number one quarterback prospect by Scouts.com , and the number one pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com .
I could go on for a whole page with the awards and achievements he has won, but suffice it to say he is an extremely talented quarterback that everyone has high expectations for.
While he has not yet played in D1, he does have plenty of experience being in the spotlight. I realize Washington is not Texas when it comes to football, but he has been on the national radar for some time now and even started in the Army All-American Bowl.
I don’t think I remember a BYU recruit that has garnered more national attention than Heaps.
I really think this is a two-horse race as Lark just has too much going against him. It really comes down to how valuable Nelson’s experience is for him, and how it translates into success this spring as I really think they will pick a quarterback before fall camp.
Nelson would seem to have the veterans more on his side, whereas Heaps is a charismatic young man that has quickly won over the young guys. He even got one recruit to change schools and join him at BYU.
His complete commitment to BYU is admirable and shows in his personal effort to make the whole program better. It is widely known that he takes it upon himself to call potential recruits and encourage them to come to BYU. Enrolling early also gives him a chance to learn the system and be ready to play early.
The only thing that would make me not want Heaps to play is if he plans on serving a mission. That is a decision between him and God that no one else can comment on, but if he decides to go, he should redshirt this year.
If I were a betting man I would guess that Nelson will get the nod, though I personally would pick Heaps. I think the coaching staff prefers Nelson’s experience to Heap's raw ability and charisma.
Heaps just seems to have all of the characteristics of a great quarterback. It would take a little time for him to truly settle in, but he has the advantage of having one Harvey Unga who can bear most of the load while Heaps gets his feet wet.
Heaps has not been shy about his goal to win a National Championship, and I love that confidence about him. He is totally committed to that goal, and I want to see him accomplish it. The best way to make that happen is to get him starting now. He has the talent, and maybe more importantly the leadership ability to do it.
I will still be a huge fan, and watch either way, but the thought of the success that Heaps could have as a four-year starter (though I bet he would leave early if he did succeed his first few years) is something that dreams are made of.
Only five more months until we know for sure!
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