After putting on the uniform half asleep and hearing the horn sound at 6 a.m., the first thought that came to senior defensive back Brandon Heaney was that head coach Gary Crowton had taken a page out of Air Force's playbook.
Even for an ex-military Cadet accustomed to early mornings, Heaney found it unorthodox to be practicing through a sunrise and not a sunset.
"It was weird seeing it get lighter instead of darker during practice," said the 5-11, 185, senior corner back from Trabuco Hills, Calif.
Coach Crowton made Heaney feel as though he was back at the Academy during spring ball. The team scheduled early morning practices in March because it was the only time everyone could practice together without school conflicts.
"I'm sure everyone on the team learned their lesson and registered early for fall semester," he said. "No one wants to have early morning practices throughout the season."
Before transferring to BYU, Heaney was a Cadet at the Air Force Academy for a year. The year for Brandon was filled with Basic Training, hazing and football.
"I originally chose to go to Air Force because the thought of military life intrigued me, and they were really the only Division-I school recruiting me out of high school."
Heaney did not have any military background entering the Academy and Basic Training was his first look at a soldiers life.
"Basic Training is to convert soldiers away from a civilian lifestyle over to a military one," he said.
During the six weeks, the Cadets get their haircut, learn to march, learn to wear the uniform, and learn to rely on the person next to them, because no one will make it through Basic Training without the squad's assistance.
Basic is the constant hounding and molding of a soldier. A time when someone is continuously looking over the shoulder, forcing more push-ups and sit-ups until exhaustion.
"I'd rather do six weeks of two-a-days than go through Basic Training again," he said. "After training for six weeks, I gained a great respect for those who protect our freedom."
The freshman year at the Academy is a time when all the higher ranking military students have the right to haze the new recruits in order to instill in the Cadets' minds the importance of following the rules and regulations.
"The BYU Honor Code felt like freedom," he said. "At BYU, no one is constantly criticizing you, and you don't have to worry who's going to spit in your face or yell at you next."
Although he still doesn't wake up early because he's not a morning person, one thing he still does is keep is a regimen. Although it doesn't compare to the strict military regiment, he organizes his time to include studies, practice and a social life.
"The main reason I chose to come to BYU was because I wanted to be around my friends," he said. "I took a chance coming here, but I knew in the end I'd be happy."
His transfer from the Academy to BYU was more than just an atmosphere and a location change--it was a position change as well.
During his single season at the Academy, he played quarterback on the JV team.
That one year gave Heaney the confidence he needed to know he had the talent to play at the Division-I level. Although BYU didn't offer him a scholarship, Brandon decided to leave the AFA in order to walk-on as a cornerback. With LaVell Edwards' offense system set in place, Brandon thought a transfer meant he had to give up his dream of being an option quarterback.
"I liked playing quarterback because you have the ability to control the outcome of the game," he said.
In 2000, Heaney was awarded prep player of the week for his efforts on the prep-team preparing BYU for the AFA.
"That week Coach Edwards asked if I would move over to offense to run the option during practice." Even though BYU had a secret spy in Heaney, the Falcons still won the game, 31-23. He has since given-up as an option runner.
"I'm sure Coach Fisher DeBerry was worried about me giving away some secrets, but after the game I don't think he cared who was helping out BYU."
BYU vs. AFA
On Oct. 16, 2001, Brandon was overly excited, and rightfully so. He was preparing to make his first college start by playing against his old team and his old friends.
"My heart pounded a little harder before the game because I wanted to play my best for BYU and for Coach DeBerry, who spent a lot time with me and had something to do with me being out on the field."
His unique familiarity with the option helped him to get to the ball one step quicker, and that extra step led him to make big plays, earning him player of the week honors for the team after recording a career-high two tackles-for-loss.
"AFA has a real class program, and I hope they win every game but one."
In clutch situations, coaches look towards their playmakers to win the game. Heaney is one of those playmakers that like to have the outcome of the game in his hands.
The same determination seen from the Falcons year in and year out, the Cougars get it from Brandon daily.
With the game on the line and Utah looking to convert a first down to run the clock out in 2001, Heaney made a play when he had to on a third-and-six. He knocked down a late fourth quarter pass to his side, giving the ball back to the Cougars.
Brandon Doman subsequently ran the option to Luke Staley to score the winning touchdown and secure BYU's first outright Mountain West Conference championship.
Another of Heaney's most memorable moments came in Laramie, Wyoming against the Cowboys. Heaney he took that game into his own hands and picked off a Pokes' pass in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown.
That interception was Heaney's first at BYU. He ended the game with a career-high eight tackles, but he said the game was bittersweet. On the series following his interception, the Cowboys went over the top on Brandon to complete a long pass, putting UW back into the close game.
In 2002, Heaney opened the season against Georgia Tech with eight tackles and two interceptions. A separated shoulder that limited his playing time for the remainder of the season hampered the promising start.
Shouldering the Pain
During his redshirt year at BYU, he faced injury setbacks. Several times he sat down with himself and wondered if he made the right decision.
"My mom talked me through those tough times," he said.
He overcame the obstacles by reverting back to the determination he learned during the six-weeks of Basic Training. "I knew if I could survive Basic, I could do anything."
When other college students are working at their summer jobs or enjoying their time away from Happy Valley, Brandon spent his summer putting extra hours in the weight room and on the practice field in order to earn a scholarship.
"I called up my mom that summer and told her I wasn't coming home until I had a scholarship," he said.
After earning a scholarship and a starting position under coach Crowton, Heaney unfortunately suffered the shoulder dislocation.
"I initially hurt my shoulder by diving for an interception," he said. "As the weeks went by and the joint became looser, my shoulder started popping out more frequently and it got the point it would happen in my sleep, or when I threw mouthpieces."
He expected a lot from himself this season with a reconstructed shoulder and a revamped defense behind new Defensive Coordinator Bronco Mendenhall.
"Coach Mendenhall's philosophy is fun for fans to watch. He'll bring a barrage of blitzes to get after the quarterback," he said.
The opposing quarterback will have three seconds to read the defense, to find the open receiver, and to get rid of the ball or he's either on the ground or throwing into a hot landing zone. Heaney and the other DB's will leave little room for the opponents to land a touchdown pass.
"With our phenomenal defensive nucleus back this year, and new players stepping in to fill the holes, we should be real exciting to watch," he added. "Just Coach Mendenhall's intensity on the field has stepped our defense up to a new level."
With another injury sidelining him this year, Heaney awaits a decision by the NCAA to grant him a hardship year.
His No. 1 goal now is to get healthy in order to get back on the field in 2004. But, if football doesn't work out though, this hard-working former Cadet has a backup plan to move to the sideline to coach at the college level.
A Cadet's Day as experienced by BYU's Brandon Heaney
6 a.m.--Twenty minutes to shower, to shave and to clean up the room for inspection. During room inspection, the Cadets stand at attention in the hallway with their backs against the wall. Ranking officers will find a flaw in the uniform or room. Everyone at the Academy lives in the dormitory with the squads on a single floor.
7 a.m.--Breakfast is served. All 4,000 Cadets march together to breakfast before classes begin.
"It's amazing to see the school come together and march in unison," said BYU's Brandon Heaney, who used to live at the United States Air Force Academy.
7:15-Noon--Classes are conducted. Cadets are required to learn military knowledge during the first year. It's not unusual to have higher-ranking cadets test the new recruits' knowledge throughout the day. Wrong answers warrant yelling and spitting in faces.
Noon--Squads form in the quad to march to lunch.
"You learn to eat fast because you only have 15 minutes to eat a meal," said Heaney.
A regular Cadet after lunch will meet up with the squad for military time where they will perform push-ups, sit-ups and go on runs. A football player has the opportunity to get away from the military life for a few hours by going down to the practice field.
6 p.m.-- Weight training
7 p.m.--Dinner served
11 p.m.--Taps played and call for lights. The night is reserved for studying. Athletes are expected to maintain the same demanding academic schedule, despite the time constraints.
Only three times during the semester are Cadets granted the opportunity to leave campus. The first time a Cadet can leave is Parents' Weekend, which occurs the weekend after basic training. Cadets must be in full uniform, but the getaway does give them the opportunity to leave the rigors of military life behind for a short time.
Former BYU players who transferred from the Air Force Academy
In addition to Brandon Heaney, BYU has been the beneficiary of a couple other players who have transferred from the Air Force Academy.
Linebacker Shad Hansen, who played at BYU from 1989-92 and tight end Brian Billick, who played at BYU from 1974-76, started out playing at the Air Force Academy. Hansen was third-team All-America and Billick was honorable mention All-America at BYU. Both were first-team All-Western Athletic Conference.
Billick, whose father retired from the Air Force, is now in his fifth year as the head coach for the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001 by defeating the New York Giants. At the Air Force Academy, Billick played outside linebacker. He was drafted in the 11th round by the San Francisco 49ers and played briefly for the Dallas Cowboys. He and his wife Kim have two daughters.
Hansen, who now lives with his wife Lori Jensen and their two sons and a daughter, in Lutherville, Md., where he is now a marketing manager for Black and Decker. Hansen has worked for that company nine years in Utah, Oregon, Maryland, Florida and now back in Maryland again.
"I had brief conversations with Coach Fisher DeBerry and I respected him," said Hansen, now a volunteer Church leader.
Shad had the rank of E-1 as Cadet Candidate Hansen as a member of the AFA Prep School where he toughed it out from July through January, 1988-89.
"It was a very disciplined and structured with the highest integrity at the Academy and it was a very challenging, competitive environment," said Hansen. "I think their football team is run that same way. That is why it was so easy for me to enroll in a similar BYU program. There are Cadets who would have a hard time following BYU's Honor Code."