FLORHAM PARK- It’s a sight seen at just about every Jets practice, and one easy to miss unless you’re looking for it. A few yards back from where the offense is working, there’s a 6-1 figure going through each of the motions, too. He’s just not in the huddle, or at the line.
Undrafted rookie Jake Heaps will take each mental rep: He’ll hypothetically take the snap, drop back and scan the defense. He’ll pick out where he wants to throw the ball, and then fire a pass to his intended receiver.
“I do everything as if I was in the huddle,” Heaps said.
It’s not ideal, but it works. Then again, nothing has really been ideal for Heaps since he was handed his high school diploma back in 2009.
At one point, ‘Jake Heaps’ was a name just about every collegiate, and most NFL, coaches knew. The Washington native was a near legend, leading Skyline High to state titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He threw for 9,196 yards and 114 touchdowns in those three seasons. His reward? The ranking as the nation’s top quarterback per Rivals.com. Most colleges wanted him – Notre Dame, Florida State, Tennessee —but he chose BYU.
After that? Things got… unique
“You could say that again,” he said.
Heaps started 13 games as a freshman where he completed 57 percent of his passes and threw for 2,316 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He led BYU to the New Mexico Bowl and was named the game’s MVP. He showed promise, and it looked like the high-school hype would turn into collegiate success.
Then things changed. As a sophomore, Heaps started the first five games of BYU’s season and threw three touchdowns and five interceptions. Heaps was benched and saw limited action the remainder of the season. He then transferred to the University of Kansas.
After redshirting the 2012 season, Heaps appeared in 11 games for Kansas in 2013. He completed 49 percent of his passes and threw for 1,414 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He then transferred again. This time to Miami. He ended up losing a quarterback competition to Brad Kaaya, attempted just 12 passes the entire season and the player that was once thought of as a sure-fire, eventual first-round pick was now an afterthought in the minds of just about everyone.
Heaps figured he’d give himself one chance to see if he couldn’t make his NFL dream a reality. He had his Pro Day, and drew interest from the Jets. The team offered him a chance to tryout at their rookie minicamp. Heaps accepted.
“I’m a realistic guy,” Heaps said. “I don’t think there was ever a time where I doubted myself. I knew the chances were slim and I knew the obstacles that I had to overcome. I knew I had to perform at an extremely high level.
“I had to go above and beyond to get these opportunities and just continue to work.”
When Heaps arrived in Florham Park, he realized that his “unique” collegiate experience was beneficial to him at the next level. In his five years playing college ball, he played in five different offenses. He constantly had to learn new schemes and adapt to new personnel. Having to cram a new playbook for minicamp wasn’t an alien concept; it was, in a way, the norm. The only thing each offense –from BYU to NYJ-- had in common was the fact they were all pro-style.
“In a way, that helped me out a lot in the transition to this level,” Heaps said. “As a young player, that’s the biggest obstacle: You need to be able to recognize defensive fronts and protection calls. It wasn’t intimidating for me. I knew how to do it.”
Heaps impressed the Jets coaches enough to earn a contract following his tryout. Just a few days later, the team released fellow quarterback Matt Simms. Heaps, in return, climbed a spot on the depth chart. The rookie now sits behind Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and fellow rookie Bryce Petty.
While Heaps says the obvious goal is to make the team’s final 53-man roster, he’s just enjoying the fact he’s here. After all, with the journey he’s had to this point, making the team as a tryout player may be the most normal aspect of it.
“I’m just going at this with the same approach I had from the moment I walked in the door,” Heaps said. “I’m trying to take advance of every chance I get, and let the chips fall where they may.
“I’m holding my head high, and knowing I did everything I could to make this work.”