The Making of Quarterback Giants

BYU honored its All-American quarterbacks during last week's game against Washington. Last Friday, most of those past quarterback greats gathered with those of the present to mentor, council and pass along advice.

BYU's quarterback lineage includes a long and prestigious line of All-Americans, and most of them were recently able to meet with those that will carry on that quarterback tradition.

"Last Friday we had six or seven All-American quarterbacks in our quarterback meeting giving advice," said Coach Doman. "It was a unique experience for all of our quarterbacks. It was more kind of like a room of brothers and they just kind of wrapped their arms around them and told them they support them and are behind them all the way, and on top of that they gave them good advice."

"It was fun to meet Virgil [Carter] and to meet Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Gifford Nielsen," said freshman quarterback Jake Heaps with a smile. "Ty Detmer actually wasn't there because he had a high school football game to coach, but Marc Wilson was there. It was an unbelievable experience for all of us.

"They all had their different things they said and they all have their own unique personalities. I think that was the coolest thing about it. None of those guys played the same and none of those guys had the same mindset. They were all different guys but made the system their own. They all went through the system and grew up in it, but they were who they are and weren't going to change that."

Virgil Carter, who played at BYU from 1963-66 and in the NFL from 1967-76, shared some sound advice with the young Cougar quarterbacks.

"Make sure you stay involved academically because there's a career after football, and that advice came from Virgil Carter," said Coach Doman with a laugh. "He said, 'Make sure you stay on top of your academics,' because for him at the time the NFL didn't provide a whole lot of money."

"He told us to really take advantage of our education," Heaps said. "He was saying that the biggest thing is taking advantage and owning what is on the field and in the classroom. I completely agree with that. If you handle your business in the classroom, then it's going to correlate here on the field with the playbook. I thought that was a good piece of advice because some people lose sight of that."

Gifford Nielson, who played for the Cougars from 1975-77 before being drafted into the NFL, spoke words of inspiration and put into perspective what it means to be a BYU quarterback.

"Giff's a great man and I can't say enough about him," Heaps said while smiling. "I really can't say enough about Gifford Nielsen. He's a great man and a great football player as well. He said, 'What we've done here at BYU and why we're here is for you. We want to see you guys succeed and carry on the tradition. What we've done is what we expect all of you to do.' It's a tremendous honor to carry that torch and to say that I'm a BYU quarterback. It's a tremendous honor to be a BYU quarterback and is something that is valued all over the country. I think that's the attitude Gifford Nielsen instilled in us that day."

Marc Wilson, who played from 1977-79 and then was drafted in the first round, gave some council that was directly related to this year's quarterback situation with Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps.

"He said, 'As you look around the room, each one of us was a backup to somebody in the room at one point or another and had to watch and share time and do that kind of stuff,'" said Doman. "Here he knew these two quarterbacks were sharing time and I think it was a really good message to them that this is pretty natural and normal – particularly for the young guy, Jake – that it's okay to learn a little bit and get your feet wet and to kind of have yourself eased into being a quarterback here at BYU. We all did it, you know, and here we are with some of the best quarterbacks here at BYU."

"[Wilson] was saying how much this place meant to him and how great a place like BYU is," Heaps said. "He's a guy that's from Washington too, and everything that happened with him coming from Washington to here is very similar to what me and Riley are going though. During his playing days here, he split time with Jim McMahon and just said, 'If you guys play together and do your job and do it the best you can, that's all you can ask for.' It was advice meant for me and Riley. You know, Marc and Jim had tremendous seasons, and it's just all a matter of doing the best with what you've been given and taking advantage of it. It was great."

Jim McMahon, who played at BYU from 1977-81 and went on to become a first-round draft pick and lead the Chicago Bears to a Superbowl title, brought his eccentric and humorous demeanor to the quarterback gathering.

"Jim McMahon said something that I thought was kind of interesting," said Doman with a smile. "He said, 'Make sure you take care of your offensive linemen.' I thought that was pretty funny – ‘Take care of your offensive linemen.'"

"Jim McMahon is a funny guy," said Heaps. "The thing that stood out to me that he was when he said, 'Let it fly!' He said, ‘Just let it fly.' He's really a funny guy and it was great to be around him. I think the biggest thing I took from Jim was how he carried himself and his swagger. At the end of the day, everybody knew he was a go-getter. Everybody knew he would do what it took and put, so to speak, his life on the line out there, and that's one thing that I picked up from him. His swagger, confidence and willingness to do whatever it took is what I learned from him."

Steve Young, who played for the Cougars from 1981-83 and also went on to win a Superbowl, shared some personal insight into what he learned from the quarterback that preceded him.

"One of the biggest things Steve Young said was what he learned from Jim McMahon," Heaps said. "He said that Jim McMahon might come across as someone who doesn't really care much about the system, being a rebel and all that stuff, but Steve said that Jim McMahon worked harder than anybody. And that example is how Steve Young learned to prepare to be a quarterback. Coming into a game, he knew the script and the plays better than anybody else on the field. He demanded the best from everybody on the field, and that's where Steve really came into his own. He said, 'If you want to dominate the field, you have to dominate the playbook. You have to have the confidence that you know everything on that field, and that there is nothing too overwhelming for you.' I thought those were some really great things to hear from Steve Young."

"Jim McMahon and Steve Young just talked about staying within the system and told them that BYU's system isn't any different than when they were here," said Coach Doman. "This system is a great system and allows quarterbacks to have great success if they stay inside it, so they just basically promised and guaranteed that. They let them know that they're being taught within the right scheme and don't do anything outside of that, especially as you get into a tight football game at the end of the game. Most quarterbacks get outside of the box and try to do something spectacular instead of staying inside the box and allowing players to make plays."

"Just being able to stand around those guys was just amazing," Heaps said of the experience. "You dream about meeting those guys and you see them on pictures and posters. You get to see how they act, talk and walk, and it was an amazing experience. Being around all those guys and hearing from them and learning from them, it was an experience I'll never forget."

Although former Cougar quarterback Steve Sarkisian (1995-96) was in town at the time of that meeting, he wasn't in attendance to share his personal insight, as he had to attend to his team as head coach of the Huskies. Nevertheless, Heaps had good things to say about him.

"The one thing I'll say about Steve is he has a great football mind and is football savvy," Heaps said. "Having the chance to have been recruited by him and hearing his philosophy, he really does do a good job schematically and really does have a great football mind. He's done a tremendous job, whether when he was here at BYU or at USC and now at Washington, and is so passionate about the game and the intricacies of the game.

"It just goes to show, and obviously we never really talked about BYU, that everything that he's learned over that time comes back to this place. It all started here at BYU and with those great quarterbacks that came before him. It all started from Virgil Carter to Ty Detmer on down to Steve Sarkisian, and they've done a tremendous job at this place. Now it's up to me and Riley Nelson and James Lark and Jason Munns and whoever else comes here in the future to carry on that BYU quarterback tradition."

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