Jerrod Heard shouldered pressure before taking a snap as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback.
Heard, a redshirt freshman from Denton, joined a team that has searched for a quarterback since Colt McCoy injured his arm in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.
Longhorn fans caught their first glimpse of the 6-foot-2-inches, 195-pound quarterback in Texas’ Sept. 12 game against Rice. Heard emerged from his redshirt shackles to start after Texas lost 38-3 in a season opener at Notre Dame.
“All the guys wanted to see him play,” freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “He’s been held back, like in a prison cell.”
His start against Rice wasn’t great. It didn’t need to be; he still generated buzz. He dazzled with his legs, evading defenders and running with ease. He connected on two deep touchdown passes. The team seemed revitalized.
“That was the goal when I got my number called,” Heard said. “Just being a spark and bringing what I can for the team.”
Heard committed to Texas on Aug. 14, 2012 — days before starting his junior year at Denton Guyer High School. Guyer head coach John Walsh had identified Heard in seventh grade and kept him close. Heard came through in a two-year tear as Guyer’s starting quarterback. He engineered a 16-point comeback victory against Georgetown in the 2012 4A Division I State Championship game. Guyer repeated in 2013. Heard totaled over 11,000 total yards and 135 touchdowns at Guyer.
Though he committed to head coach Mack Brown, he didn’t waver at Charlie Strong’s hiring. He signed his letter of intent Feb. 5, 2014.
Heard never took a snap his freshman year. He battled junior Tyrone Swoopes for the starting role during spring practice and fall camp. His competitive nature mixed with limited playing time bred frustration. He worked harder.
“I have a lot to prove, and it gave me a chip on my shoulder,” Heard said in August. “I just wanted to go out there and be a reliable guy for the team.”
Even so, Swoopes started in the opener. The game was a disaster. Heard played limited snaps as Swoopes and his offense struggled.
Three days later, Strong moved Jay Norvell, Texas’ wide receiver coach, to play-caller. Norvell started Heard against Rice. Then, against California, the Juice ran loose.
Down seven with 1:51 remaining, Heard marched down the field. With one last gallop before 91,568 fans, he ran 45 yards for a touchdown and brought Texas within one.
“The last run that he scored the touchdown on was really electric …” Strong said. “An open field is very dangerous.”
Heard broke Vince Young’s record tallying 527 total yards in a game. He credited his teammates.
“I told [my teammates] we were going to get this ball into the end zone,” Heard said. “I had faith in them that we were going to.”
But senior kicker Nick Rose shanked the game-tying extra point, and the Longhorns lost. The latest roller-coaster began.
The Longhorns lost to Oklahoma State and were blown out by TCU. Then they upset arch-rival Oklahoma and beat Kansas State. In an Oct. 31 shutout at Iowa State, Heard passed for just 26 yards and an interception. He threw two fourth-quarter interceptions against West Virginia on Nov. 14 to seal a 38-20 loss. Against Texas Tech on Thanksgiving, Heard left the game with a concussion.
Heard isn’t the first quarterback to struggle at Texas.
Vince Young threw 18 interceptions his first two years. Colt McCoy’s sophomore slump alone featured 18. Garrett Gilbert transferred to SMU after a 5-7 run in 2010. Still, Heard knows fans’ inconsistency.
“At Guyer and in middle school, when we won, everyone wanted to give me high fives — I got free lunch,” Heard said. “When we lost, everyone was taking my lunch. That’s how it is though. I’m used to that. I know how to bounce back through that and keep fighting.”
Heard turns to Swoopes for help understanding plays. The junior is happy to help, even though Heard swiped his starting job.
“I feel like I went through a lot last year, and there wasn’t an older guy like myself to talk to and keep me motivated,” Swoopes said. “I am trying to give him what I would have liked to have.”
Heard may not play the last game of the season — he’s day-to-day after his concussion. But Norvell still spots areas of improvement: reading the field, passing with accuracy and checking the ball.
“Those are things we continue to work on with him,” Norvell said. “He needs to show progress.”
Texas quarterbacks haven’t done enough of that lately.