CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Brad Kaaya expects it will feel surreal taking the field Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Not necessarily because 90,000 rabid fans — most in Nebraska Cornhusker red and black — will be rooting against him and his Hurricane teammates. It won’t even be because he’ll be playing just the fourth game of his budding Miami career in one of college football’s most recognizable and revered venues.
That will all be memorable, of course. But for Miami’s young quarterback, the most jarring moment may come when, for the first time in his 19 years, he’ll look across the field and see Terrell Newby, one of his closest friends, standing on the other side sporting a uniform different than his own.
“It’s crazy,” Kaaya said. “I’ve played with Terrell since I was 6 years old … it’s a bit of a trip.”
Kaaya and Newby, a sophomore running back at Nebraska, played alongside each other at Chaminade Prep in West Hills, California, but their friendship predates two-a-day practices, Friday night games, homework assignments and high school graduation.
As pre-schoolers at a Los Angeles Montessori, Kaaya and Newby first connected on the playground. Their parents hit it off too, and two lives and football journeys have been intertwined ever since.
In fact, it was at one of his son’s birthday parties that Newby’s father suggested to Kaaya’s parents that their son, always taller than most of the children in their circle, give football a try. Not long after that conversation, Kaaya won his first quarterback job on a pee wee field and a career of handing the ball off to one of his friend got its start.
— Brad Kaaya (@TrinidadBrad) September 18, 2014
“They liked each other from the playground all the way to youth football and their personalities are the same. They both have a quiet demeanor, but a deep, burning desire to be successful at what they do,” said Newby’s father, Terrell Newby Sr., who coached the boys’ youth football team. “I guess their personalities and that desire to be successful is something they have a mutual respect for and it started at an early age … They know what each one wants to accomplish.”
Though neither has played college football very long, both have seen that similar drive produce results.
Kaaya arrived in Coral Gables in May and months later, earned Miami’s starting job. He enters Saturday’s game against Nebraska coming off an impressive showing during the Hurricanes’ 41-20 win against Arkansas State. Kaaya passed for 342 yards against the Red Wolves and set a Miami single-game record for true freshmen, school officials said.
Newby, meanwhile, was one of two true freshmen to suit up for Nebraska’s offense last season. He played in every game and rushed for 298 yards, finishing third on the team behind Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abdullah, widely regarded as one of the best backs in the nation, and Imani Cross. In his first game, a 37-34 win over Wyoming last year, Newby started his Cornhuskers career with a season-high 15 carries and 76 yards.
He enters Saturday’s game as Nebraska’s third-leading rusher with 25 carries for 135 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that don’t surprise Kaaya.
Bout to watch fam @TrinidadBrad Turnup rt now for the U ✊
— Terrell Newby (@TerrellNewby) September 1, 2014
“He’s just a good all-around player,” Kaaya said. “Just like Duke [Johnson], he can catch the ball, he’s pretty fast and he’s pretty agile. In high school, I’d pitch it to him and he’d get around all the DBs, knife it up for 40 yards on a simple pitch play. He’s blazing fast.”
And what has Newby told his Nebraska teammates about Kaaya?
“He’s a real good quarterback,” Newby said. “His awareness stands out, especially as a freshman.”
While both Kaaya and Newby concede it will feel strange to play against each other, those who know them best are looking forward to Saturday.
Their high school coach Ed Croson told the Los Angeles Times he’s “rooting for a high-scoring game with no turnovers” and a Miami win, while Terrell Newby Sr. is understandably pulling for the Cornhuskers. And Angela Means, Kaaya’s mother, says it will just be the latest chapter in the story of a life-long friendship that brought two families together.
“This will be their first real disagreement,” she laughed. “It’s going to be different, but I’m going to enjoy it. This is what we’ve all worked for, this is where we are, two great athletes going against each other.”