SALT LAKE CITY - To earn his first standing ovation from BYU football fans, Washington prep phenom Jake Heaps didn't have to say a word.
The No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country reached into a bag, pulled out a BYU cap and placed it on his head Thursday at Iggy's Sports Grill, sending Cougar fans crowded into the restaurant and around the country into football heaven.
Heaps had made his oral pledge to be a Cougar, but he wasn't alone. Heaps was all smiles as Ross Apo, a receiver who had previously committed to the University of Texas, joined him and acknowledged he was now coming to Provo. Then Zac Stout, rated as one of the top middle linebackers in the country, sat down and made his BYU commitment known.
Of course, this was the easy part. The hard part comes in 2010, when all three athletes - provided they sign a letter-of-intent next February - put on a BYU uniform and take the field.
For now, the three future Cougars represent what may be the biggest moment in BYU recruiting history.
"I didn't think this many fans and media would come," Heaps said. "This blew up, absolutely just blew up. The reception here today, it was unbelievable."
Heaps is the highest-rated recruit to choose BYU since Ben Olson in 2002. Olson, the No. 1-rated quarterback in the country that year, redshirted as a freshman but opted to enroll at UCLA after serving an LDS mission.
BYU fans hopes Heaps is a different story, especially after his efforts recruiting Apo and Stout.
Apo (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) is rated by most recruiting services as a top 50 receiver and had offers from Texas, Nebraska, Utah, BYU, Washington and Cal, among others. Apo has attended several BYU summer camps and the Cougars were first to offer him a scholarship, but he committed to Texas in March.
Now, he seems sold on BYU.
"The fact is that they (BYU) throw the ball a lot and I'm a receiver. I want to catch the ball," Apo said. "I'm going to go in there and do what I do until I get a starting spot."
Last season, Apo caught 37 passes for 764 yards (20.6 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns at The Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas. He told reporters he clocked a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash recently.
"I guess I'm a little bit like Randy Moss," Apo said. "I'm a downfield receiver, but if you look at the film, I'm an inside receiver, too. But I'll play anywhere."
Stout (6-2 220) plays at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, Calif., alongside the sons of NFL legend Joe Montana, NHL great Wayne Gretzky and actor Will Smith. Stout led his undefeated team with 112 tackles (81 solo) and 22 tackles for loss. He had offers from Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, BYU and Nebraska, among others.
"Each of the schools recruiting us were selling the same four things - education, faith, family and football," Stout said. "We all agreed the combination of these things at BYU are right for us. BYU is the only school that can deliver those four things and enable us to reach our goals.
"These two guys want to win a national championship with a powerful, pro-style offense. I want to bolster a hard-hitting, top 10 defense in my pursuit of a national championship."
None of the three recruits were shy about talking national and conference titles as goals.
"This is the place we felt we had the best opportunity to win championships," Heaps said. "In no way, shape or form am I guaranteeing anything, but we're going to work like crazy for a national championship. It's not a dream, it's a reality and a goal we can achieve."
Heaps had 26 scholarship offers, including one from Washington and former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian.
"It was tough, but in the end, coach Sarkisian once made the same decision I did for the same reasons," Heaps said. "He understands more than anybody why I did this."
Heaps, Apo and Stout will all be attending BYU's Junior Day today and said their goal is to recruit more top-notch talent to commit to the Cougars.
"I've done a lot of research and I was waiting for that epiphany to come," Heaps said. "I recently received that and knew BYU was the place for me. Now we have an opportunity to go to Junior Day with our heads held high as BYU Cougars."
None of the three athletes, who are all members of the LDS Church, have made a final decision on missions. Heaps and Apo plan on graduating from high school early and enrolling at BYU in time for spring football in March of 2010. Stout will enroll in the fall of 2010.
Skeptics will point out that Heaps and his fellow recruits haven't played a down for the Cougars yet, or that hiring a pubic relations specialist and holding a press conference is just too much attention on a 17-year-old kid.
Heaps said he doesn't mind the criticism.
"This thing today wasn't about me," he said. "This press conference was not about me. It was about these guys and BYU as a collective group. It was about getting these guys in the spotlight and BYU in the spotlight. If I have to take the heat for that for awhile, then I'll definitely do that.
"I don't need all this. I'm not a Hollywood-type kid. But if all this gets national media attention for BYU, I'll do it."
∫ Daily Herald Sports Editor Darnell Dickson can be reached at 801-344-2555 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org