Miami is looking for its next starting quarterback.
Brad Kaaya will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, the school announced Monday evening.
“This was one of the toughest decisions of my life,” Kaaya said in a statement released by the school. “However, I have zero worries that the ‘U’ will indeed be back. No matter who is under center next season, I have no doubt in my mind they will have the platform and the resources around them to bring a major championship back to Coral Gables. Miami will forever hold a special place in my heart and I am proud to say that I will always be a Miami Hurricane.”
Kaaya, who won the starting job as a true freshman in 2014, became the program’s all-time leader in (9,968), completions (720) and attempts (1,188) during his junior season. He is third in touchdowns (69) and completion percentage (60.6).
Based on his status as one of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks, Kaaya was widely expected to turn pro. Before his junior season, he was considered by analysts as a certain first-round pick, and some draftniks pegged him as a potential No. 1 overall selection. His stock seemed to slip during the year, as Miami lost four games in a row in October, but he finished strong.
In his final five games — all wins — Kaaya threw 14 touchdown passes and had just one interception. His final game was a 31-14 victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. He went 24-of-34 for 282 yards and four touchdown passes, tying a Miami bowl record for TD throws in a bowl. He was named the game’s most valuable player.
He finished 2016 with career bests in completions (261), attempts (387), yards (3,532) and touchdowns (27), his name ahead of such “Quarterback U” luminaries as Ken Dorsey, Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Gino Torretta, Steve Walsh and Vinny Testaverde in Miami’s record books.
The knock against him — as it has been for many Hurricanes quarterbacks in recent seasons — is that he didn’t beat rival Florida State or win a national championship. After what would be his final game, Kaaya, appearing as as loose and happy as ever after leading UM to its first bowl win in 10 years, was asked how he wanted to be remembered.
“Just a guy that, when things got tough … he didn’t quit on the U, and he didn’t let the U sink because it hasn’t been pretty the last three years,” Kaaya said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. We hadn’t beat Florida State. We hadn’t won the ACC Coastal. But just as a guy who was tough and didn’t quit, didn’t quit on his teammates, didn’t quit on his U, and just a person who tried to leave this jersey off better than how he found it, whether it’s this year or next year.”
Next fall, three redshirted backups – junior Malik Rosier, sophomore Evan Shirreffs and freshman Jack Allison – could be vying for the main job with two true freshmen, N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon. Rosier, who appeared in 10 games the last two seasons, is the only one with game experience.
“I think regardless of if I’m here or not next season, I think this team is headed to greatness,” Kaaya said after the Russell Athletic Bowl. “I think there’s a lot of good things going on, and a lot of progress has been made. So I think this team will be good regardless of what happens over the next few days.”
Coach Mark Richt said in a statement that Kaaya has “been a blessing to the program and I know he’s going to have a wonderful professional career. I want to wish him the very best.” Athletics Director Blake James said Kaaya, who was named 2014 ACC rookie of the year, “did a wonderful job of representing [UM] on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
Kaaya was tapped into UM’s “Iron Arrow” honor society earlier this year. It is the school’s highest honor, recognizing character, leadership, scholarship, humility and love for the school.
As for the NFL draft, held April 27-29 in Philadelphia, it’s unclear where Kaaya will place. One recent projection, by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, had him in the second round (No. 42 overall) to New Orleans. WalterFootball.com rated him as the sixth-best quarterback, and a third-to-fifth-round pick. NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who watched UM in Orlando last Wednesday, said Kaaya should stay in school. “He can make all the throws,” Jeremiah wrote. “He just needs a little more time in college.”
The last Miami quarterback to be drafted was Dorsey, a seventh-rounder in 2003. The last to go above the seventh round was Craig Erickson, a fourth-round selection in 1992. Kaaya has a shot to be Miami’s highest-drafted quarterback since Walsh (first overall, 1989 supplemental draft) and Testaverde (first overall, 1987). Other draft-eligible quarterbacks in Kaaya’s class include Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and California’s Davis Webb.
In the statement announcing his departure, Kaaya said that while he is looking forward to “pursuing my future endeavors,” he will “miss our fans, media, students, administrators, coaches, families, and most importantly my teammates, who were with me through the good times and the tough times.”
Kaaya, a native of suburban Los Angeles, said Miami is his “long-term home,” and he plans to complete his UM degree in communications. “I also plan on giving back to this university and the South Florida community, two places that had such a positive impact on my life,” he said. “I look forward to watching coach Richt and his staff, and our team do even bigger and better things for years to come.”