Brad Kaaya is sitting at a small, round table, explaining his view of one of the most interesting quarterback competitions in college football this season.
Kaaya, a true freshman, and 23-year-old graduate transfer Jake Heaps hope to start for Miami when the Hurricanes face Louisville on Sept. 1. The quarterbacks are listed as co-starters on the depth chart UM released this week.
“I just take it day by day,” Kaaya said Friday. “Another week or two we’ll know, but right now it’s still a competition. Me and Jake are good friends.”
“So he thinks,” Heaps cracks from across the table.
Both say they’ve created a tight bond in the few weeks they’ve known each other. But if Heaps were instead a rival, Kaaya seems like he could handle that, too.
“He doesn’t melt,” said UM offensive coordinator James Coley, who jokes that Kaaya “might be 30.”
On a hot, steamy day in a campus courtyard, Kaaya, 18, barely broke a sweat in his first meeting with South Florida reporters at UM’s media day. He shrugged while answering one of many questions about the race for the starting job.
“My goal since I’ve been here is to be the starter,” said Kaaya, who is 6-foot-4, 206 pounds and wears No. 15. “If me being the starter will contribute to the team’s success, so be it.”
And if Heaps wins the job, and Kaaya redshirts?
“Then I’ll be fine with that,” he said. “No matter who the quarterback is, I think we’re going to be an awesome team.”
Kaaya has a tight delivery, sharp vision and strong arm, but his poise and preparation get the most praise. That’s why, coach Al Golden says, he has no qualms about possibly starting a true freshman on the road in Game 1.
“Absolutely not,” Golden said. “Not based on what I’ve seen. And the supporting cast around him. That’s not going to be a factor.”’
Kaaya, who grew up in Los Angeles’ West Valley suburbs, made an instant impact when he transferred from Encino-Crespi High to West Hills-Chaminade as a junior.
“First time we had him in class, we went over some of the plays,” Chaminade coach Ed Croson said. “The guy comes up to me after class with four pages of meticulous notes and specific questions – this is a kid in the 11th grade – and I was thinking, ‘Do you want to coach?’ ”
Kaaya threw for for 1,875 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions while sharing the job that season. As a full-time starter last year, he directed the Eagles’ read-zone offense expertly, throwing for 3,855 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions. Chaminade (14-2) won the first state title in its 61-year history.
All the while, he was speaking with Coley as often as NCAA rules allow. Kaaya, rated the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in his class by Rivals.com, committed to UM in May 2013. Although UCLA, USC, Stanford and Boise State went after him hard, he never wavered.
On a recruiting visit to UM, Coley recalled, Kaaya took out his notebook in an offensive staff meeting. Coley had seen that before. But what really surprised him was that, in subsequent phone calls, Kaaya “would speak in our language … like, ‘I saw you guys hit Rodeo against Florida,’ ” Coley said. “I knew right then and there, this is a different kid.”
Bradley Matthias Kaaya Jr., who turns 19 on Sept. 3, is the son of Angela Means and Brad Sr., who split up when he was 6 but remain close. The family, she said, “is a complete melting pot of nationalities,” including Tanzanian, which is where his father’s surname originated.
Kaaya has been a Miami fan since he was little, intrigued by the 2001 Hurricanes, who won the national championship in the Rose Bowl. He and roommate Tyre Brady, a freshman wide receiver, hung a picture in their dorm room of two stars from 2001, quarterback Ken Dorsey and wide receiver Andre Johnson, hoisting the championship trophy.
“For inspiration,” Kaaya said.
Dad is a writer and producer who met Mom, a former actress, at a Hollywood party in the early ’90s. She is best known for her role as Felicia, the girlfriend of the neighborhood bully Deebo in the 1995 film Friday.
She and her son know this season could be a turning point in his life, but neither gets carried away.
She laughed when she saw tweets from overzealous Canes fans excited about the arrival of “Kaaya the Messiah.”
“Calm down, killer,” she said. “I know it rhymes, but really?”