Raising Kaaya: Mom's fame, dad's obsessiveness shape Miami's star QB
Brad Kaaya might break out in 2016, and years of preparation by his mother and father have the signal caller ready for his close-up
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was a 9 years old when he first said, "Bye, Felicia" to his mom, the catchphrase that she's famously identified with from the movie "Friday."
Angela Means, Kaaya's mother and a former comedian/actress, had fussed at her son to clean up his room. He fired back with, "OK, all right, bye, Felicia." The expression is used to dismiss someone from your life who is usually irrelevant and annoying, according to Urban Dictionary.
"I said, 'Oh my God, where did you see that?'" Means recalled.
"Bradley's not judgmental. He knew it was work and where my fame came from. We'd get swamped at the grocery store when he was a baby. He knew I stopped acting and everything I was about I put into him. He always respected that, 'Wow, she could be doing other things.' 'Yeah, I could be doing other things, but I'm out here with you, dude.'"
Any story about Kaaya's rise to becoming a star quarterback at Miami and NFL future often focuses on his mother's "Bye, Felicia" fame. It was a throwaway line spoken by Ice Cube's character in the 1995 comedy to dismiss Felicia, the neighborhood drug addict who was played by Means.
To this day, "Bye, Felicia" still surfaces in pop culture. Michelle Obama used the phrase when asked her advice for parents of college kids. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson tweeted the phrase to MTV. Go on Twitter and most days you'll find plenty of people using the #ByeFelicia hashtag.
What gets lost in the retelling of Kaaya's mother fame is what happened in the 20 years after the catchphrase. How Kaaya reached his own celebrity status is due in large part to his father's self-admitted obsessiveness to train his son as an elite athlete, and also Means' decision to give up her acting career to raise Kaaya with the perspective she believes he needs to succeed.
"My mom did anything to make my future better and my childhood better than what she had growing up in a farm with a big family, kids running everywhere, a lot of different issues," Kaaya said. "It was just rough on her growing up and she went through crazy stuff. She wanted me to reach my best possible potential."
Now a junior, Kaaya is poised to be the first Miami quarterback drafted by the NFL since Ken Dorsey in 2003. The school of Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde is in a serious QB drought. The Hurricanes haven't had a first-round quarterback picked since Testaverde went No. 1 in 1987.
NFL scouts like Kaaya's mind, vision and composure. One scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he is reluctant to classify Kaaya as a first-round pick yet given questions about his arm strength. The scout wants to see how Kaaya develops under new Miami coach Mark Richt, who sent Matthew Stafford, Aaron Murray and David Greene to the NFL as pocket passers like Kaaya.
Miami quarterbacks have received NFL buzz in the past and fizzled. Kaaya knows this firsthand. He's good friends with Jacory Harris, Miami's quarterback from 2008-11. Like Kaaya, Harris started for the Hurricanes as a true freshman and had success as a sophomore. In his junior year, as NFL talk circulated, Harris struggled and threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
"He told me he had that NFL mindset already coming into his junior season and he got hurt and things changed real quick," Kaaya said. "He told me just let your play handle everything and don't worry about all the extra stuff that comes with playing quarterback."
Kaaya is learning to manage life as a celebrity. Perhaps this is nothing new for a young man who would go out to eat in Los Angeles with friends and see Sinbad and Sean Connery at the same restaurant. Except now Kaaya is the center of attention. He got noticed attending a baseball game -- in Toronto. He posed for pictures at a Justin Bieber concert. He played video games at ex-NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson's house.
"Look at a guy like Peyton Manning. He's not trying to get shoe deals done. You don't see Peyton Manning out in clubs. He keeps it simple. He loves the game. He respects the game," Kaaya said.
"A guy like Johnny Manziel, he doesn't respect the game of football. There are guys at other positions who can buy into the hype and hype themselves up because there's not as much pressure to perform. But as a quarterback, you've really just got to have tunnel vision in your life."
Rudy Carpenter, a former Arizona State and NFL quarterback who privately coaches Kaaya, said Kaaya got "very, very, very lucky" by landing Richt as his new coach once Miami fired Al Golden.
"That's like hitting the jackpot for Brad," Carpenter said. "He'll be in a true pro-style offense. I mean this in no disrespect to anybody else, but he could have been in a situation where he's (former Penn State quarterback) Christian Hackenberg and he has Coach (James) Franklin as his coach. And I say that not hating on Coach Franklin. Stylistically, that's not a good match. My thing to Brad is, 'Hey, dude, the No. 1 thing for you to be drafted and be a very, very high pick at some point is take the coaching from Coach Richt and execute it.' If he does that, he's going to be playing on Sundays."
Richt said Kaaya has a chance to be special due to his own work habits and the former Hurricanes' coaches recognizing his talent.
"It won't be because of me," Richt said. "I think he's a very, very accurate passer, and he's going to be a very good decision maker. So far he's been very respectful with the football. He's got guys that believe in him -- the offense, defense, special teams, the coaches, the fan base. He's earned that respect to be the guy, but he's a very humble guy."
Kaaya follows trend of NFL QBs
When Kaaya was a child, Means often told him about the time she got a standing ovation at the Apollo Theater. She wasn't bragging about her career as comedian but rather teaching him the necessity of being ready right away, especially in front of a tough crowd.
"I always told him be in the game before you get in the game," Means said. "When I did standup for some of the roughest crowds -- crowds just waiting to boo you, crowds that are you-better-be-funny crowds -- I had to be on the stage before I got on stage. I had to be in the middle of the lights and in the middle of the jokes and we were already up and running. That was something I was able to give Bradley. When he walked out there his first college play as a freshman, he was already in the game."
How Kaaya became a potential NFL quarterback mirrors how many passers reach the NFL. Monday Morning Quarterback did a fascinating study last May analyzing the youth football careers and family backgrounds of the record 15 quarterbacks who were drafted in 2016.
One of the findings showed that 13 of the 15 quarterbacks grew up in homes that were valued near or above the median home value in their respective state. Brad Kaaya Sr., the Miami quarterback's father, said that characterization describes the family's finances as their son grew up.
"I don't know if he's going to come out early, but if he has a big year, maybe he would," he said. "It's got to be a decision he wants. It's not like he's coming out because he has to feed his family. I'm not rich. His mom's not rich. But we're doing well enough he can make his own life."
Kaaya didn't lack for much growing up. He went to a private preschool and high school in the Los Angeles area. He traveled a lot to new places. He attended football camps all over the country, whether it was at Michigan, Wisconsin, Stanford or Miami.
"It does take money," Means said, "because the (quarterback) position requires so much focus. And let's be honest: When you have a mom picking you up every day, you know there's going to be food on the table, you know your lights are not going to be turned off, you know you have practice cleats and game cleats and almost any stitched jersey you want, there's no distractions. You can focus. Bradley was prepared for this."
The MMQB analysis found that, on average, the 15 quarterbacks taken in the 2016 draft began playing the position at age 9. Kaaya said he was 8 years old when he became a quarterback.
"The quarterback on my team quit before the playoffs," he said. "I could always throw the ball the farthest, so the kids just voted me the quarterback. I told my mom I don't like quarterback, it's not fun. She said they voted you so stick with it. Ever since then, I stuck with it."
MMQB also found that 13 of the 15 quarterbacks spent their early childhood in two-parent homes. Kaaya's parents split up when he was around 5, but his dad was regularly around. Kaaya Sr. coached his son's Pop Warner teams and called plays from the Tony Franklin System -- a series of seminars and weekly conference calls about tempo offense led by Franklin, a college offensive coordinator.
Father and son threw balls every day until the son believed he threw the perfect spiral. "We'd throw until my dad's hands got tired or until he got smart enough to buy gloves," Kaaya said.
Kaaya Sr., who now sells a product for curly hair, used to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. He wrote the screenplay for the movie "O," an update of Shakespeare's "Othello" set in a prep school. He was also a writer for the TV series "Madtv," "Damon" and "Cousin Skeeter."
When it came to sports, Kaaya Sr. acknowledged he was "obsessive" with his son. Kaaya Sr. rode crew in college but grew up loving 1970s quarterbacks like Terry Bradshaw and Kenny Stabler. When his son was young, Kaaya Sr. heard the story about ex-NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich's father. Marinovich was excessively trained starting at a young age and his promising NFL career ended because of substance abuse problems.
"I'm like, 'I don't want to drive my kid like that,' but there's something to that training by pushing him hard," Kaaya Sr. said. "It went too far (by Marinovich's father). But the notion of I'm going to give my kid extra nutrition and extra weight, there's got to be smarts to it. I don't think we really went too far. When you go out and play catch, you're playing catch and having fun. I tried to make it a game."
When Kaaya was about 12, he told his father he was pushing him too hard.
"I said, 'OK, I understand. I don't want to have a relationship like Serena and Venus Williams have with their dad,'" Kaaya Sr. recalled. "He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'I think they're mad because he pushed them too hard.' Brad played his video game and came back 15 minutes later and said, 'Hey, dad, I want you to push me like Venus and Serna.' I think the reality was, 'Hey, they did get good, so maybe I should embrace it.'"
Kaaya Sr. now, with his current wife, has a 7-year-old daughter who plays soccer and tennis. "My dad wants her to play tennis because it's big money," Kaaya said. "She's pretty good so far at both. He knows what to do right and wrong with her."
Kaaya began his high school career at Encino Crespi High School, an all-male private school in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. He transferred halfway through his sophomore year to Chaminade Prep.
"I just felt like it wasn't going to work for him at Crespi," Kaaya Sr. said. "I didn't think he'd actually get on the field and get a chance to prove himself until his senior year, and we didn't trust the situation with the coaching staff in flux. They got replaced the following year so we went to a more stable situation."
Kaaya eventually became the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the country as rated in the 247Sports Composite. But for a while, he didn't receive many college scholarship offers. By late in his junior year, Kaaya's only offers were from Miami and San Diego State. Kaaya said USC (the school he grew up loving with Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart), UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State told him they were waiting on decisions by other national quarterbacks. Kaaya committed to Miami instead of waiting the other schools out.
"Sucks for them," said Kaaya, who used to look at a list of quarterbacks rated ahead of him every day as motivation.
Later, USC and UCLA pursued Kaaya. USC was "very intriguing" because of its pro-style offense, but Lane Kiffin had just been fired and it was unclear whether Ed Orgeron would be the permanent coach, Kaaya Sr. said.
"We really liked Orgeron, and Clay Helton was offensive coordinator and we thought he was a great guy," Kaaya Sr. said. "But we didn't know if he would be there. It seemed scary to go in that situation. When (Steve) Sarkisian came in, the phones went quiet for a while and we figured he was recruiting guys from when he was at Washington. We liked Miami just as much, if not better."
The story of Kaaya's rise resembles so many other prominent prep quarterbacks. There's dedication, there's privilege, there's talent, and then come the scholarship offers. But Means never wanted her only child defined by one thing. She remembers showing him a world map at the age of 4 and pointing out Los Angeles to him.
"The world is bigger than where you are," Means said she told Kaaya. "I always brought him back to that so he thought global his entire life, and it's also helped with relationships and with problem solving and with his own ego."
Raising a quarterback
As a young boy, Kaaya was fed every type of experience his mom could think of to make him well-rounded. Means had studied that the most important brain development in life comes between birth and age 6.
From ages 3 to 6, Kaaya took ballet, swimming and music classes. He got into a prominent Los Angeles music school after Means begged the director to take a few minutes to hear her son play the piano. Kaaya traveled to different places so he would gain a perspective about the world, whether it was Hawaii, Tanzania or the Caribbean. Means put a camera in Kaaya's hands as a preschooler and encouraged him to take pictures of what he saw so he could gain his own perspective of life.
Means was five months pregnant with Kaaya at the premiere of "Friday." After he was born, she would do occasional stand-up comedy but found it too difficult to travel with a child. When Kaaya was 3, Means appeared in a children's TV series called "Cousin Skeeter" on Nickelodeon. A nanny brought Kaaya on set and the director would let the boy call, "Action!"
When Kaaya was 5, he had a regular football workout schedule. At 8, he was working with a private coach. By 9, he stopped drinking milk because he realized it was part of his allergies and discontinued eating McDonald's.
Kaaya's parents planned how they wanted his education to go: private preschool, public elementary, public middle school, private high school, and private college. He was home schooled in middle school. Means owned a small production company at the time, and her loft doubled as home and work. Means said Kaaya would wake up each morning at 6 a.m., go to his desk and teach himself online while she worked.
"I checked to make sure everything's done, but at some point it's, 'I've got this, Mom,'" Means said. "He was always on the go, but to him it was normal. That's why his success is not a surprise. It's just what you do. Me growing up on a farm, my job was to wake the rooster. That's just what you do. Home school was an opportunity to just let him rest and kind of gain more perspective, see where you are and see where you're headed."
On the bedroom wall of his mom's house used to be a fat head of Ray Lewis that Kaaya admired. That's an unusual choice for a quarterback to choose to look at every day considering Lewis was a terrorizing middle linebacker who tried to hit passers.
"I always interpreted it as Bradley saying, 'I don't fear him. I don't fear anyone, you're not going to beat me, and I'm not going to run from my fears,'" Means said.
Many people have shaped Kaaya's football career. But no one has been more important than Rudy Carpenter, a private coach lined up by Kayaa Sr. who started working with his son in middle school. If anything, Kaaya's parents said they're more like brothers than player-coach.
Carpenter used to be Kaaya. Before Jimmy Clausen was the golden boy Los Angeles-area quarterback, there was Rudy Carpenter out of Westlake High School, about 20 minutes from where Kaaya lived. Carpenter experienced the up-and-downs of quarterback as a four-year starter at Arizona State and then in the NFL and Canadian Football League. He was still playing professionally when he first met Kaaya, so he fed him all the information from his NFL team meetings.
"I told Brad, 'Hey, I don't really believe in the quarterback guru and training stuff, but we'll work once or twice a week and the rest of the days you self-evaluate yourself and work yourself,'" Carpenter said. "He's one of the few guys who actually did that because he could learn a lot faster. The quicker he learned, the more I gave him. He was so hungry and thirsty for any information that he could possibly get."
How good can Kaaya be? Carpenter paused and initially expressed reluctance to answer that question. He described himself as a "Debbie Downer" when dealing with quarterbacks, and he wouldn't identify the 16 other starting college quarterbacks he has mentored. Carpenter said elite quarterbacks have become too coddled because they're always told how good they are.
"Rudy doesn't blow my head up with hype," Kaaya said. "He shows me articles that talk about me in a negative way, articles that criticize me. He loves sending those to me."
Carpenter knows what Kaaya must still improve on: making off-schedule throws from awkward angles when plays break down. These are the throws great quarterbacks make and average ones don't. Yet Carpenter knows how hard it is for quarterbacks to find a balance to both improvise and play within themselves.
Kaaya only threw 16 touchdowns in 2015, down from 26 as a freshman. But he also got picked off just five times, compared to 12 in 2014. One 2015 interception occurred when Kaaya made an ill-advised throw into the end zone against Nebraska as Miami had a chance to finish the game. The Hurricanes still won. But Carpenter left what he called an "18-page text message" to Kaaya about how furious he was because the intercepted ball should have been thrown out of bounds.
"I think, at this stage in his career, he's a poor man's Carson Palmer," Carpenter said, finally addressing Kaaya's potential. "I think with some really good coaching and a team around him and some development, I think Brad can be a Carson Palmer-type guy."
Richt's pro-style offense may suit Kaaya's strengths. Kaaya estimated he was under center this spring about 70 percent of the time, compared to working in the shotgun about 80 percent in 2015 under the old staff.
Under Richt, there have been some changes to Kaaya's timing with his drops and the passing routes. Sometimes, Richt wants Kaaya to speed up his feet or slow them down depending on if he's making a boundary throw or a timing route. "It's stuff I hadn't really thought of too much before," Kaaya said.
Kaaya acknowledged it's "cool" to see some of the incredibly early NFL draft boards listing him. He enjoyed reading one website that edited some college players into NFL uniforms already but said he understands he's not there yet.
When former NFL wide receiver and Miami native Chad Johnson went on Twitter last spring bragging about being the best player at the "FIFA 16" soccer video game, Kaaya accepted a challenge to play him. They communicated by Twitter and Kaaya went to Johnson's home and beat him three straight games.
"He said a rematch is coming," Kaaya said.
Kaaya became a public relations major because he didn't want to take so many math classes for his first choice, business. He hopes to get an internship in the Miami sports information office. It's not every day you see a star quarterback say, with as straight a face as Kaaya did, that he's willing to go buy the SID coffee and doughnuts as an intern.
Kaaya's mom lived through a life of marketing. Angela Means said she never would have imagined "Bye, Felicia" would become so popular. She still receives royalties from "Friday" and quipped that there's probably a $1.17 check in the mailbox waiting once she hung up the phone.
After acting, Means started a still photography business that once included Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown in her portfolio. Today, she is a vegan chef helping people lose weight and get off medication through organic food. She works at a Los Angeles restaurant that she asked not to be identified in this story.
"I get a little nervous," Means said. "A lot of people are enamored with Bradley. It's phenomenal but also a little scary. I'm still trying to figure out this whole thing of a college football player with a famous mother. You know, I had a list when I came to Los Angeles of seven or eight different things I wanted to do, and I did all of them. The last thing on that list was 'mom.'"
Bye, Felicia. Hello, Bradley.
CBS Sports HQ Daily Newsletter
Get the best highlights and stories - yeah, just the good stuff handpicked by our team to start your day.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Gustin suffered the injury late in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's win over Colorad...
Remember when Bobby Boucher showed up at halftime and the Mud Dogs won the Bourbon Bowl?
Tagovailoa left in the third quarter of Saturday's win over Missouri
Behind Burrow, LSU bounced back in a big way after a loss to Florida
CBS will be back in Jacksonville for the annual meeting between Florida and Georgia
Eli Thomas has appeared in four games so far this season for the Huskies