CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Brad Kaaya arrived on Miami’s campus in May. Barely three months later, the true freshman is already the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback.
Kaaya edged transfer Jake Heaps for the job, and will start Miami’s opener at Louisville on Sept. 1.
"As I told him, he’s our quarterback," Miami coach Al Golden said Sunday afternoon after practice, a few hours after informing Kaaya and Heaps of the decision. "He’s not a freshman quarterback. He’s the University of Miami quarterback."
Kaaya being selected puts an answer to the biggest question of camp for Miami, which lost quarterback Stephen Morris to graduation and was expected to have Ryan Williams replace him to open this season. But Williams tore a knee ligament in spring ball and while his recovery has been much faster than many anticipated, the race has been Kaaya vs. Heaps.
And in the end, Kaaya won.
"Separation came about a few days ago, about eight days ago," said offensive coordinator James Coley, who has raved about Kaaya’s poise. "I thought Jake did a great job this camp and I just thought that Kaaya, towards the end here, really pulled away and started getting really comfortable. Like I’ve been saying, he’s not your regular freshman. He’s not a freshman anymore. He’s the starting quarterback for the University of Miami."
Coley was asked if he envisioned a scenario three months ago where a true freshman could be given the keys to Miami’s high-octane offense.
"You know what? No," Coley said.
Kaaya, a 6-foot-4, 206-pound native of West Hills, California, spent about 13 weeks on campus before training camp and rarely ventured out to see any of the sights of South Florida. Instead, he was often found studying Miami’s playbook for hours, and Golden has been often pointed out the sacrifices that Kaaya made to get into the quarterback race.
"For me, if I was coming to Miami to just go to the city, go out and have fun, I would’ve stayed back home," Kaaya said earlier this month, on the lone day he’s been able to talk with reporters because of team policies regarding new arrivals. "I came here to play football. That was my whole decision. My decision was based on football. I wasn’t coming to Miami to just enjoy the extra stuff that Miami has."
Golden said it’s too early to predict if the race will re-open when Williams is able to play again.
But without yet throwing his first pass, Kaaya has already made an impression on university president Donna Shalala.
"I’m very fond of him," Shalala told The Associated Press in an interview prior to the announcement. "He’s the real thing. Excellent young man, wonderful student, an excellent student. He’s a first-class student."
Kaaya went 23-3 as a starter in high school. He will get to run an offense that features Duke Johnson — one of the top returning players in the Atlantic Coast Conference — at running back, along with returning standout receivers Stacy Coley and Phillip Dorsett, plus tight end Clive Walford.
"Right now, I have a solid group of guys around me," Kaaya said at the team’s media day on Aug. 15. "Good receivers, a good offensive line, good running backs. So right now, I’m feeling very confident with the guys that are around me."
In turn, the ‘Canes are confident in him.
"It was a tight battle. It was a battle that none of us could have foresaw at the end of June or the beginning of July or maybe even the beginning of camp," Golden said. "I’m excited about that position. … But right now, Brad nudged out Jake, and he’s our quarterback."