CORAL GABLES, Fla. — “Who’s that?”
That was Brad Kaaya’s initial reaction to a question posed to him Monday about Georgia freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. The Miami Hurricanes’ star quarterback has a lot on his mind with regard to his own team’s preparations for the fast-approaching season. So that’s understandable.
But reminded that Eason was the former No. 1-rated, pro-style passing quarterback prospect from the West Coast and that he took a pretty hard look at Miami, Kaaya remembered Georgia’s highly-touted freshman quarterback. And he said he an certainly identify with Eason’s current situation, as it parallels his own, and to a remarkable degree.
Kaaya was a 4-star prospect and No. 7-rated pro-style passer in the country when he came all the way across the country from Los Angeles to play for the Hurricanes in 2014. And play he did.
Kaaya won the starting quarterback job in preseason camp and went on to start every game of the 2013 season and, well, every game since. So, yes, he can identify with Eason’s challenge.
“It’s hard to tell sometimes, whether a guy should start as a true freshman or not. So much goes into it,” said Kaaya, who is playing his first season under the direction of former Georgia coach Mark Richt. “I think it’s good for a quarterback, overall, depending on what kind of team you’re on. If you’re on a team where you have older guys around you who are going to carry you and bring you along but not expect you to be the superstar, to be the guy, from day one, I think that helps.”
That was the situation Kaaya came into as a freshman. The Hurricanes were a senior-laden team and were in desperate need of a play-maker at the quarterback position. Kaaya said he had a lot of 22- and 23-year-olds around him on offense where he didn’t really have to assume a role as leader. He could just go out and play and distribute the ball and not feel like he was having to carry the team.
But it was a struggle. The Hurricanes limped into the postseason with a 6-6 record before losing to South Carolina 24-21 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Overall, though, Kaaya was productive. He completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He was named ACC rookie of the year and true freshman All-America by 247Sports.com.
“There’s going to be some ups and downs as a freshman quarterback,” he said. “… My first game in college was against Louisville on the road at Papa John’s Stadium. That was tough. So having good teammates is essentially key for any freshman quarterback. He needs guys that can carry him at times; other times he might have to carry the team.”
The Hurricanes lost that first game 31-13 as Kaaya went 17-of-29 for 174 yards but threw two interceptions in addition to one touchdown. Georgia has a similar no-nonsense opener against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Game on Sept. 3 in the Georgia Dome.
Eason has a similar set-up at the moment. The Bulldogs have a lot of veterans on offense, starting with upperclassmen offensive linemen in Brandon Kublanow, Greg Pyke and Isaiah Wynn and continuing into the backfield where Nick Chubb and Sony Michel eventually will both be 100 percent healthy. But Georgia also has a tried-and-true veteran quarterback in Greyson Lambert to turn to. So the Bulldogs have the option of bringing along Eason more slowly.
Meanwhile, Miami has gone 14-12 since Kaaya got the nod as a freshman. The 6-4, 215-pound athlete believes all the experience has served him well. Entering his junior season, he has now played almost every significant moment of the Hurricanes’ last 26 games. And with the stout running game Richt and his new coaching staff are promising, Kaaya believes ever bigger things are ahead.
“(Offensive coordinator Thomas) Brown believes in really imposing our will on teams with the run game,” Kaaya said. “That should really help me and that should help the whole offense.”
Georgia could certainly say the same, whether it’s Eason or Lambert or somebody else under center.