Heavner gets the nod

It's official, Kris Heavner will get the starting nod against TCU on Saturday. He becomes the third starting quarterback for the Wildcats this season and the first true freshman to start since Ronald Veal took snaps for the Wildcats in 1987.

"We are going to start Kris and go from there," said John Mackovic. "Based on last week, I felt it was a good opportunity to see what he can do. Nic has had a chance to start, Ryan has had a chance, and now Kris is going to have a chance."

Heavner wants to make the most of his chance. He knows that a fast start is vital for the success of this team and hopes to give the offense the spark they have been missing since the UTEP game.

"If we start off really strong, then our defense will play really strong," Heavner said. "If the offense can start clicking we'll be right there. We're just that close (to being good), that close."

Heavner obviously wanted to start, but did not make a big production of it early in the week. He knew that he and the other two Wildcat passers would have to compete this week and that there were no guarantees.

"If my time comes I'm going to take it and go with it," Heavner said on Monday.

The Cats have started three quarterbacks in the past. In 1997 Keith Smith, Ortege Jenkins and Brady Batten all got starts. Then coach Dick Tomey let Batten, a senior, start the Insight.com Bowl as a reward for a great career.

Some wonder if the team is fractured due to the rotating quarterback position. It is natural to have separate camps backing different players, but Heavner insists that isn't the case with this team.

"The team is behind every one of us," said Heavner. "It is tough to have a bunch of quarterbacks in there to get going, but the team is behind us."

Heavner's rise to starting quarterback has come as a surprise to many. He was overshadowed in the recruiting process by fellow freshman Richard Kovalcheck, but a lot of that was due to his background. While Kovalcheck was playing for a large private school in San Diego, Heavner was playing small town football in rural Texas. Heavner was a star in Johnson City, not exactly a sprawling metropolis.

"It's a small town, everyone knows you," Heavner said. "There are only 900 people in the town."

Heavner fell through the recruiting cracks due in large part to a lack of exposure. Not many college scouts get out to games in Johnson City. Heavner participated in the Nike Texas combine, but was unable to go to any individual team camps.

Heavner committed early to Arizona and then had to watch as Kovalcheck got all the hype. Heavner did not worry about Kovalcheck or any of the quarterbacks on the team. He knew he had to work hard and compete, but that nothing was going to come easy.

"I knew the quarterback situation and I came in thinking that I had a shot and whatever happens happens. I'm going to go with it. If I don't play then I'll redshirt and go from there. If I do play I'll take advantage of it."

In many ways Heavner is a combination of Costa and O'Hara. Like Costa, he's a mobile weight room junky. He's put together more like a linebacker than a quarterback. Unlike Costa, he's got good height and can see better in the pocket. He has the strongest arm of any quarterback and, surprisingly, he's picked up the offense better than expected. In high school Heavner played in an offense that was created around his strengths, but at Arizona he has had to learn how to fit into the John Mackovic system.

"He played at a real small school, and they didn't have any kind of a spread offense, so we were looking at his technical skills," Mackovic said. "We saw good skills there." Kovalcheck may have come from a more structured offense in high school, but he did not grow up watching Mackovic's offenses at Texas.

Heavner got a playbook early and made sure he studied it. When he came to Tucson he had an understanding of the offense, but a lot of questions as well. It was his competing quarterbacks who helped him with the transition.

"I didn't really ask them, they just came to me," Heavner informed. "They are really great friends. Nic would tell me if I did something wrong and show it to me. Same thing with Ryan. It was great to come in that first day and have them. The first day I felt comfortable. It was just learning and getting comfortable with the offense. That was the only situation I couldn't handle."

One thing that has impressed his coaches and teammates is his work ethic. Mackovic found out early in the recruiting process just what kind of hard worker he was recruiting.

"Every time I called his home, he was working out," said Mackovic. "He was lifting, running or throwing every time I called. It was the same way during the summer. He is strong, physically strong. He goes to the weight room, and our players recognize him, how he works and what he does. That says a lot. When you are trying to earn your way, you have to have something to catch as an athlete. He just made up his mind that he is going to be the toughest guy that he can be, and that he is going to be able to do the things that he needs to do."

That thirst for hard work has not diminished since he got on campus. Heavner is a fixture in the weight room and has seen the results.

"I've put on five pounds since I got here," Heavner confessed. "I love to lift weights."

His teammates have noticed the results as well.

"He's solid mentally and he works his butt off," said senior safety Clay Hardt. "He's the type of guy I love to have on my team."

Heavner is not cocky by any means, but he does not lack confidence. He is very aware of the role of the quarterback as a leader and loves to fill that role. He knows what he has to do to be a leader on this football team.

"When I'm on that field I'm a field general. I'm poised, I like to take control of the field, take control of the team and make sure we're moving forward."

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