Brad Kaaya: Quarterback at Miami from 2014 to 2016. Threw for 9,968 yards and 69 touchdowns. Kaaya also led Miami to their first bowl win since 2006.
•You’re a west coast kid from California. What drew you to Miami?
If you grew up anywhere south of Fresno, California, odds are… you desperately had dreams of playing for the University of Southern California. While this same notion applied to myself, I always had this strange fascination with The U. It was a school that was nearly 3 thousand miles away yet I was always captivated by the Orange and Green, and the big plays, and the untamed style of football. When I was invited to visit Coral Gables, I couldn’t help but follow the voice in the back of my head that had always felt an affinity towards the U. Football in Southern California is often associated with structure and scheme, while I felt the scheme at UM fit me, I also enjoyed the unrestrained attitude the U played with. Compared to the softer, “finesse” style programs of the PAC-12, Miami offered me a change of pace. Whether it was the culture, or the city, or the brothers I bonded with, it influenced who I am today and I could not be more thankful.
What was it like being the starter your first game as a true freshman?
It was a whirlwind of emotion. To be honest, I don’t believe there’s many sensations which can come close to replicating it. One day you’re at prom, then in the blink of an eye, you’re in a city you’ve never been, playing with and against men who will be at the NFL combine in 6 months. Not to mention, you’re on nationally broadcasted television, orchestrating a complex system of routes, protections, and concepts, which you learned 3 months prior. It was a plethora of high-stress responsibilities to place on an 18 year old, yet I loved every minute of it. That Labor Day Monday, I was 18, green and unscathed. Two days later, after “nut-cutting time” had came and gone, my 19th birthday arrived. To put it all in perspective… it felt as if I was 18 going on 23, and not 19! Experiences like this, can really have a profound impact on you.
•Over your three years, did you have a favorite go-to receiver?
To be honest? No. As a pocket passer it’s hard to have a favorite receiver, because you’re simply always trying to find the open guy. While there were certain receivers I liked for different matchups, it was always hard to pick out a “go-to” due to the scheme changing every season. In certain years, different guy’s strengths were catered to as opposed to others. For example in 2015, we were able to do a lot with our halfbacks in the passing game. In 2016, the halfbacks were used more in pass protection. Small things like this, influence where the ball is distributed and to whom.
- What was the biggest difference between Al Golden and Mark Richt?
The biggest difference was philosophy. With AG, the motto was to play loose, don’t be afraid to freestyle a bit and act almost as the point guard on the field. Whether that was with pre-snap audibles, trying new hot-routes, or bypassing certain progressions based on what I see. CMR’s emphasis was more on discipline, and sticking to a regimented process on the field, in order to warrant consistent results.
- Did you always have a feeling you’d leave for the NFL after your junior season? Or was there a moment that was a confirmation?
That’s a PRETTY loaded question, so here we go. Before I give present this long winded answer, FYI an overabundance of factors went into my final decision, though I always figured I’d address it whenever the day came. While beginning my UM career, I always had interests in majoring in the Motion Pictures Screenwriting program. However, after doing my research, I learned you sort of have to dedicate ALL of your time and effort towards the craft of filmmaking. The amount of hours I spent watching opponent game film alone, rendered that impossible. With UM’s withstanding policy of honoring the scholarships of players who leave early, I figured this quite possibly could be an advantageous loophole. I could leave both an impact on the field, and eventually get a free education in what I’ve always been passionate about. That’s of course… if I ever played well enough to warrant this consideration. The decision was still years in the future, and to be honest, I didn’t realize it was a legitimate possibility until my coaches began asking me what my plan was at the end of 2016.
Fast forward to the end of my Junior season. I learned A LOT of lessons. One was, while it may be glorious, football is a VIOLENT sport. It seemed as if every limb had sustained an injury at one point during the season. After a meeting with my coaches, before the West Virginia beat down, I came to the conclusion that another year of college football might not be very conducive to my short/long term health and life goals. By leaving school after 2.5 years, I figured I gave myself a chance to get a monetary head-start on life, and eventually have the opportunity to get a free degree in what I’ve always yearned for.
In all honesty, throughout my junior year, I absolutely felt compelled to return. It felt like my noble duty, to both the city that formed me, and more importantly my lifelong brothers. However, I am also one, who does his best to rationalize EVERY situation. Whether that’s a 3rd and 5 against a 32 Odd Dime package, or a life altering decision. I can genuinely say, “I loved every second of playing for the U.” But I also loved to play chess and not checkers growing up. While I believed it could have been a glorious exclamation mark to my UM career, I also had a reasonable, gut feeling it may have crashed and burned like the Hindenburg (Check Google). No matter what decision I made, I understood dissension would have followed. However, I’m as content as ever knowing I gave my all to Miami.
- If there was one game or throw from your UM career that you wish you could have back, which would it be?
Definitely Florida State, 2014. We had them beat, man. A few more positive plays from both sides of the ball, and that game would have changed EVERYTHING. We were on a winning streak, at the midpoint in the season. We were getting hot, and the conference was getting scared. We could have ridden that momentum all the way into a great bowl game. In a matter of one quarter, we went from possibly 9-3 with a NY6/Tier 1 projection, to a 6-6 Christmas dinner at the Margaritaville cafe in Shreveport, Louisiana. Not to mention, how much of an impact winning that game would have had on recruiting in the off-season.
- What was your favorite game as a Hurricane?
My favorite game, was the only game I never played in. The “Miracle In Durham,” was a night I’ll never forget. Injury, calamity, even a death, had impacted our UM family. Al Golden, gone. Offensive and defensive captain? Injured. To make the situation worse, our most gifted player’s mother passed away. The only ones who believed in us, WAS US. We found a way to win that game, whether by luck or the grace of God. It salvaged our season and gave us motivation to keep the U afloat in the midst of a chaotic storm. Come hell or high water, I’ll always know, every person from that roster will be just fine in life.
- What was it like becoming the all-time leading passer for such a storied program?
It was a moment I’ll never forget. Now, I know records get lost in the grand scheme of things. Hell, I’m honestly happier to have won the first bowl game in God knows how long, but I do consider myself an avid football historian. I appreciate those who came before us, and made the game and program what it is today. I even had thoughts of asking George Mira permission to unretire #10, heading into 2016. Simply having the chance to surpass the likes of Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson, George Mira, Ken Dorsey, Jim Kelly, Gino Torretta, Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar, etc, etc, was a dream come true for a kid from Los Angeles, CA. It’s the kind of stuff you’d do in NCAA football, on your XBOX as a kid, never quite conceptualizing if that shot in the dark would eventually come to light. BUT, it’s (bleep) time someone else broke my record!
- What was Manny Diaz like as a defensive coordinator?
Savage. That’s how I would describe him, savage in all aspects. Seeing how he operated was inspiring not just to the defense, but to the offense as well. I still remember one of his halftime speeches. After he finished talking, I told a few offensive teammates, “This guy might (bleep) around and be a head coach soon.” I suppose I was right.
- Do you keep in touch with anyone in the program or any of your former teammates?
We still have the same group chat we started back in 2014, all offensive guys, of all different ages. A lot of guys got added as they joined the team. Some of have transferred, while most have graduated. We had a real somber moment when Ahmmon Richards had to retire. We came to the realization that every person in the group, no longer played at Miami anymore. We do our best to keep up, check in on each other, and link up whenever we’re all in town. Those guys are basically family, and a lot of other guys are too, who I see ever so often.
- What are your thoughts on coach Diaz and the team going forward?
I’m thoroughly excited. I don’t believe we’ve had someone fit this program this well in decades. In an era of thrilling offensive football, he’s found a way to make defense fun again, just like how it was glorified in the 80s. In terms of the offensive side of the ball, I haven’t gotten a chance to see a lot of footage. But everything I’ve heard, suggests we’re trending in the right direction, both in the immediate and long term future. I saw a few clips of Jarren Williams, and I think he has a chance to be very special. Better than me, and possibly better than anyone who’s came through Coral Gables. You can see he has a variety of tools he utilizes. Whether it’s touch, pace on the ball, anticipation, and concise pocket movement, he’s only going to exponentially foster these skills week after week. Everything’s in place, now it’s up to him to be great.
- Anything you’d like to say the Hurricanes fans?
The amount of love I still get from Canes fans, even in my own neighborhood, is amazing. Never could I have imagined a city, supposedly “so dangerous,” (insert Drake gif) to be so accepting of a kid from the land of “hippies and movie stars.” Being able to join you guys as a fan now has been even BETTER. My PSA to you all is, there’s a lot of analysts…and supposed analysts around the country, who seem to disagree with our rebellious mentality. So to that I say, LETS BE JERKS! — BK