The competition among the current group of quarterbacks will pose some interesting questions regarding what the Cougar offense will look like come fall camp. Jake Heaps, Riley Nelson and James Lark all bring a variety of different skill sets to the field, which leaves the Cougar coaching staff with a lot of options and room for offensive development.
“One thing that is unique about us as a group is that we bring different abilities to the table,” said Nelson. “We all do different things and we’re all different type players. We can all do specific things really well and it’s going to be interesting to see what direction the coaches take the offense.”
Lark, Nelson’s former high school rival turned teammate, agrees with Nelson’s assessment of the quarterbacks.
“What’s great is we have a really good group of quarterbacks,” Lark said. “We have a group of really good players that all have different strengths. We feel this is really good for this team because each of us brings a different aspect of being a quarterback to the field. When you have that mixed in with a really good team, there are a lot of options that can be used. It’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of it, but over the winter we’ve all been working really hard and are excited about it.”
The different abilities and strengths of the various quarterbacks will not only benefit the Cougar offense, but will help the Cougar defense as well.
“From a defensive standpoint, they all bring different things and do different things really, really well,” Brian Logan said. “We’re getting three different looks. From Riley, he can run the ball and is really quick, and that wasn’t something we got a lot of from Max [Hall]. Then you got James and Jake, who can sling that ball around like they do, [which] will only help us become a more well-rounded secondary. The big thing that’s really going to make us better is it will really help us to know game situations better. When Riley’s in there we have to change our mindset because of what he can do. When Jake or James are in there we have to know what they can do and be prepared for that, so it’s really going to help us prepare and get our mindset right for specific game situations. If we can have a mentality like that, then we can really get into a mindset of being able to break down game-time situations better, and that was something that Coach Mendenhall talked to us today about. What this means is there won’t be any surprises for us.”
Logan was perhaps surprised by what he saw in Heaps, however, as the freshman quarterback was able to complete a long pass to J.D. Falslev against him.
“You got a guy that can basically throw the ball for 150 yards out there, so now you have to basically stand back a bit when he’s in,” Logan said of Heaps. “It gives me a lot of confidence in him seeing how he can throw the deep ball like that, and if he does become the starter I think we’ll all have that same type of confidence in him. People look at us as having a rebuilding year but I don’t see it like that. We’re just reloading. That’s all we’re doing. We’ve got some firepower, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”
There were preliminary spring rumblings that the competition between the three quarterbacks vying to become the next BYU great had caused some friction in the group. However, Nelson and Lark said that wasn’t the case.
“We’re all really close and want to be the best we can all be,” Nelson said. “We’re all really good friends and all get along really well despite trying to be the one that’s going to be the starting quarterback. It’s really good for us because we’re competing together in a healthy way. It’s really just that. We’re all really good friends working together to be better, learn the offense, learn the system and try to get the starting job.”
“The competition is great and everything you would expect,” said Lark. “We’re all good buddies and we all want to compete and make each other better, but we all know that we want to be the starting quarterback and we’re having a good time doing that.”
According to Logan, the quarterbacks do indeed get along very well.
“The thing that I like, and could see it during the winter during our seven-on-sevens and one-on-ones against each other, was how all three of those guys were competing but were also really helping each other out,” Logan said. “At the end of the day we’re all still a family regardless of who gets the starting spot. That’s what I like about these quarterbacks.”
As was mentioned, Nelson and Lark were high school rivals. However, their competition to be the best at BYU hasn’t led to any strain among them.
James Lark and Riley Nelson
“I followed James’ career very closely when I was in high school,” recalled Nelson. “I had a big interest in what he was doing because he was a really good quarterback and one of the best in the state, so I really paid attention to what he was doing because I wanted to be the best I could be as well. It’s actually kind of great now that we’re here at BYU trying to be the best we can be. It’s going to be fun.”
When Lark returned home from serving a mission to Russia, he went right to work knowing the quarterback position would be open.
“My first day home I was out playing football, and as a team we’re all really excited about it,” said Lark. “The first few weeks it was hard for me physically because I hadn’t thrown the ball or used the arm like this for over two years. It took me a while to get my throwing motion back and quite honestly I’m still working on it, but every day I feel like I’m getting back to where it needs to be. I do feel like the tools we have to work with here now just get better and better every year. That’s just kind of how it works with a program like this, and we have some really talented players on the team. I think the offense will have a lot of options at the wide receiver position and that’s going to make it a lot of fun for us as quarterbacks.”
Soon, Jason Munns will return home from his mission in Mexico and join the talented cadre of quarterbacks. The competition to become BYU’s starter will get a little tougher once he returns. Before Heaps signed with BYU, Munns was the most recruited quarterback to come to BYU since Ben Olson. Lark, who was rated among the nation’s best as well, said Munns will face a few differences from when he was at BYU prior to his mission.
“From what I’ve seen before I left on my mission to what I’m seeing here now, the tools we have within this program are a lot better,” Lark said. “For the quarterbacks and the offense, there has been some changes. The footwork that we are now doing is a little different, but the overall BYU program is still the same. It’s the same old BYU and as long as Coach Mendenhall is here you can tell he gets wiser every year, but the program doesn’t really change.”
Outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton, who is being kept out of contact drills, mentioned that his shoulder is coming along fine since his injury and that he expects to be fully ready to go by fall camp.