PARKER, Colo. — On Thursday morning, Jake Heaps spent four hours on the airwaves in Seattle, wrapping up his last day as the co-host of a midday sports show.
Less than 24 hours later, he found himself walking between fields among approximately 500 campers at Chaparral High School in Colorado, the market in which he will build the next phase of his career and life.
Heaps hopped on a plane to the greater Denver area for the first of what will be many Russell Wilson Passing Academy camps, after working with Wilson, the Broncos’ new star quarterback, over the past last five years.
Heaps, a Washington native who quarterbacked for BYU, Kansas and Miami (Florida) in college and spent three offseason games on NFL rosters, will continue to be involved in Wilson’s Passing Academy but will also serve as Wilson’s full-time, private quarterback coach.
“We did stuff in the offseason and all that, but with his move to Denver – for me my home base was Seattle, so it all went well and it was nice and in sync. But I think that in order to do what we want to accomplish and for Russell, what he wants to accomplish in his career over the next 10 years here in Denver, there’s a lot of things that we wanted to do not just for him and his career, but for the Denver community from a coaching standpoint and all that,” Heaps told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. “It’s a big change for me personally, but I’m excited to jump in with two feet and working with him very closely and doing everything I can to be at his best.
“That’s what it’s really about.”
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Heaps and Wilson first crossed paths when Heaps spent an offseason on the Seahawks’ roster and then part of the 2016 campaign on the franchise’s practice squad.
“I was on and off the roster for two years and we really connected through work,” Heaps said. “He saw how hard I worked. I tried to beat him at the facility every day and we developed a bond through that. I got a random phone call from (Wilson) asking to get on a plane and come train him at UCLA and I said sure. We’ve been together ever since. It was really cool to have this friendship and to have this trust that he has in me and to have honest conversations and to evaluate his game and to do whatever I can to help him be better . Whether it’s improving the things he’s been struggling with or just maintaining what he’s been doing.
“He’s one of the best in the world, so it’s not like you basically try to change everything every year, it’s just try to make him 1% better every year and find ways so he can be better and stay sharp and be on top of things.
Wilson, of course, learns of a new offense in Denver under first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who made it clear that building the playbook was a collaborative effort between offensive staff and quarterback- back.
The system, however, is at least somewhat familiar to Wilson as he played for offensive coordinator Shane Waldron last fall in Seattle after Waldron coached the previous four years with the Los Angeles Rams under the head coach Sean McVay. Hackett, meanwhile, has spent the past three years with another member of that McVay and Kyle Shanahan coaching tree in Green Bay, head coach Matt LaFleur.
“There are a lot of mental aspects of what you need to work on and make sure (Wilson) is sharp on new pieces and new aspects of the playbook, testing him and questioning him and all those things,” Heaps said. … “There is familiarity there, but it was really cool to see everyone working together to fit in and make everyone feel comfortable, from the coaching staff to Russell to the team guy. It was really awesome and honestly I’m amazed at where they are at this point in the offseason with the setup and where everyone is at.
Prior to the start of the offseason program, Wilson hosted Broncos wide receivers as well as center Lloyd Cushenberry at his home in Southern California to get several days of work and build chemistry. The quarterback recently said he would meet again next month before Denver’s training camp begins on July 27.
“We’re going to let the guys off the hook. We’ve been going for 2.5 months now, it seems, so we’ll let the guys get away, hang out with family, do whatever they have to do, travel, whatever,” Wilson said. . “These last two weeks we will really spend time before coming back. We will be spending some quality time in Southern California.
Wilson, like a few other top quarterbacks, has built an operation around him that is designed to help him excel despite all the time away from the facility. One week, between a Thursday OTA practice and a Tuesday practice, Wilson and his wife Ciara traveled to and from the Monaco Grand Prix. On another weekend off, he flew to Dartmouth College, the alma mater of his late father and several other family members, to give a commencement address. A few weeks prior, he was at a Seattle Children’s Hospital event on a holiday.
Jokes teammate Melvin Gordon: “When you’re making around $30 million a year, you can fly a private jet anywhere you want. It’s all about football, though, man. He is locked up. There is no other way to say it.
Wilson, for his part, described the significance of the people around him.
“Having an amazing team, my performance team goes with me everywhere I go. My assistant helps me with everything,” he said last week. never wasted space, and I think that’s the point. There is never wasted space.
Heaps is now a full-time member of this team. He’ll be in California for offseason workouts and then back in Denver to help Wilson prepare for the regular season. Simultaneously, he will be part of the group working to build the RWPA camps, develop more high-end quarterback training opportunities here, and continue to expand how Wilson’s presence is felt at Denver.
“He wants to be big. He’s already great, but what he wants to accomplish in the second half of his career, he wants to be special and I think he has the ability to do that in Denver,” Heaps said “This organization has been fantastic from day one with him and the guys have been fantastic. Obviously it’s the honeymoon phase and it’s all good, it’s all special, but I really believe they have what it takes to really make some noise and achieve the goals that they all have.