Some NFL analysts consider Mitchell Trubisky the top quarterback prospect in the year’s draft despite the fact that the North Carolina product has just 13 career starts. His ACC counterpart, Brad Kaaya, has more. A lot more.
In fact, Kaaya started as a true freshman in 2014 and threw for 3,100+ yards in each of his three seasons with the Hurricanes.
“I do think that my experience will help me because I’ve played in 38+ games,” Kaaya said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I’ve seen all kinds of different experiences. I’ve had adverse situations in college. I’ve seen my coach get let go. I’ve seen three different head coaches. I’ve had coordinators change. I’ve had personnel change. The personnel my freshman year was night-and-day different compared to what I had my junior year and even my sophomore year. So just situations like that are very comparable to the NFL because in the NFL, stuff isn’t going to go perfect. It’s impossible, unless you’re the Patriots or Tom Brady – and even then, you still got DeflateGate. But still, stuff isn’t always going to be perfect in the NFL, and personnel is going to change, or stuff might not always go your way or coaches might change. So I think what I’ve seen on the field, I think that’s going to help me in the long run and help me and prepare me for whatever gets thrown my way at the next level.”
When Kaaya arrived at Miami in 2014, many people in and around the program expected him to be a savior of sorts and achieve Larry Coker-like success. Instead, Miami went 6-7 in his first year.
“When I first got there, it was coach (Al) Golden’s second-to-last year there,” Kaaya recalled. “Just the culture in general was a lot different than how it is now. I’d say the state of the program was kind of a tough situation in general just to step into. We had limited scholarships (and lost four of six to end the previous season). We had some new guys coming up and a couple guys were asked to play earlier than they would have liked to. It was just a tough year.”
So tough, in fact, that Golden was on the hot seat almost as soon as Kaaya arrived.
“The fan base was kind of split at one point,” Kaaya said. “Some people wanted Coach Golden to stay; a lot of people wanted Coach Golden out of there. Probably every home game I played, there was probably a banner flying above the game, saying, ‘Fire Coach Golden.’ Certain games we’d get booed out of the stadium. It was rough. Even games that we’d be winning, there’d still be boos, there’d still be people leaving. Some home games might get 20,000 people; some home games might get more, but it was just all over the place. The way that the program is trending now and just the recruits they’re getting and just the momentum and the energy surrounding it, I think it’s a night-and-day difference.”
Indeed, Miami went from 6-7 to 8-5 to 9-4 during Kaaya’s three-year career. Mark Richt had a successful first year in 2016, leading the Hurriances to a 31-14 win over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
It was Miami’s first bowl win since 2006 and its first time ending a season with at least five straight wins since 2001.
“I think that speaks for itself,” Kaaya said. “That’s something we hadn’t (done) in a while.”
Ultimately, that success allowed Kaaya to declare for the NFL Draft with peace of mind.
“I just felt good about the direction the program was heading in,” he said. “If the season has gone a different way or if we had gone, say, 5-7 or 6-6, or we had gotten blown out in the bowl game and it was just another average Miami year, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable leaving the program and leaving my brothers, who I came in with and spent time with recruiting and been through the worst possible situations with. I wouldn’t have felt good leaving those guys and leaving the fans, but at the end of the day, I felt comfortable and I felt comfortable handing the program off to the next guy in line.”