Do you remember the obvious apparel and equipment disparities between teams back in your little league days? How the rich kids showed up with matching bags, their names inscribed on the sides, and new cleats, and how you (if you weren’t one of the rich kids) wished you could have the same stuff? Sometimes, even, you might have looked down at your beat up pair of hand-me-down cleats and thought “look at those guys over there, we haven’t got a chance. I mean, loooook, they even have matching batting gloves!”
Jake Heaps was the kid you were looking at with the sweet gear. You were the loser on the opposite sideline, and you were Riley Nelson. Such differences in training, preparation, and opportunity are all too common in little league sports, and the fact of the matter is, the disparity only continues as prep stars prepare for intercollegiate athletics. These two camps–(1) the rich kid with every opportunity to succeed and (2) the other kid left behind to compete to achieve–breed two very different, psychological athletes.
I remember back in high school, facing a pitcher we’ll call Jeremy Carr. He’s a guy who’s gone on to have some marginal professional success. He could hit 94 on the radar gun, and had dozens of MLB scouts attending every one of of his games. But the thing that everybody knew about Jeremy Carr, was that he was a big, fat baby. If more than a couple people got a hit off of him, he coiled up and pouted. He wasn’t used to failure. Why? Because his parents were able to provide individual coaching for him from a very young age. His advantage in training, equipment, and preparation — coupled with his God-given talent — usually helped him to dominate opposing hitters. I don’t know what type of player he has become, but his attitude might give us a sneak peak at Jake Heaps’ attitude towards football.
Jake’s experience up until this point has pointed to one thing — with a better trainer, and the additional coaching, he can be the best. Nothing in his life had taught him otherwise, until he came to BYU. The problem with that line of thinking, and what Jake has learned the hard way, is that that approach to sports doesn’t translate well at the collegiate level. (Paging Garrett Gilbert…) Once you get to college, it doesn’t matter how much your dad could pay for private lessons, or how many camps you went to. What does matter, in addition to your God-given talent (of which Jake was generously blessed), is your desire, your fire, your competitive spirit, and your heart. When you get onto the field, all of the sudden, nobody is scared of you anymore like they were in high school.
Enter Riley Nelson. Riley, like most of us, was the kid with the hand-me-down cleats. (As a side note, please keep in mind, this is figuratively speaking. I have no idea what Riley’s childhood was like, nor does it matter for the purposes of this comparison. Riley was a have-not, in terms of football talent, and as a result, never could have developed the same psychological approach as Jake.) Riley’s career has taught him the opposite lessons that Jake’s has. Shoot, look at his senior year stats, and ask yourself if he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder when he only got one D1 scholarship offer out of high school. His success has always been more based on effort than talent. Heaps thought “I got this.” Nelson thought “I’m going to get this, and I’m going to work to do it.” While Jake could have developed this mentality, and been more successful because of it, he didn’t. And now he’s gone.
Even before the announcement of Heaps’ transfer, a lot of BYU fans we’re changing their minds about Riley, especially after the Hawaii game. This play and others like it could convert even the most die-hard Heaps advocate. How can you not like a guy that makes plays like the one linked above, with cracked ribs and a punctured lung?
Riley Nelson is now the guy, and he’s going to be the guy for the foreseeable future. Now he can demonstrate what he brings to the table, with out the constant fan grumblings about who should be the starter. Fans, coaches, and players can be satisfied with Riley, and just Riley. For this season at least, he’s the only viable option the team has.