AUSTIN, Texas – Jerrod Heard will always have the Cal game, the night when everything aligned. The receivers and the run lanes got wide open. The defenders had no answers. The crowd was electric. Something special happened.
The kid produced 527 yards of offense. Shattered a Texas school record in the second start of his career. Heard was creative, decisive, resilient. And he made it all look so effortless.
He’ll always have the Oklahoma game, too. His first Red River Showdown. Nothing came easily in that one. But as Heard likes to say, he brought the juice that day. He dashed and danced around the heavily favored Sooners, rushing for 115 rushing yards and pulling off an upset nobody expected.
When you’ve experienced those ridiculous highs, you want to keep chasing them. And you can’t chase them from the bench. So when faced with the prospect of being the Longhorns’ No. 3 quarterback this season, Heard embraced a different plan. He moved to wide receiver.
“I do feel like I’ve gotta be out there,” Heard said. “I feel like I’ve got to contribute to this team.”
Heard’s transition to playing receiver had been in the works for a while and became official the first week of fall practice. The sophomore says he’s “loving every minute of it” and has a chance to be an intriguing offensive weapon for the Longhorns after starting 10 games at quarterback a year ago.
Nobody forced Heard to try this. He says he volunteered.
“I was ready for a transition myself,” Heard said. “I felt like it would be a positive thing for me and for my future. I was all for it.”
So far, he’s fitting right in. Heard is getting used to catching balls from Tyrone Swoopes and Shane Buechele and making plays in scrimmages. His speed still causes problems. As Cal coach Sonny Dykes said a year ago, after his Bears survived 45-44 in Austin: “We just didn’t have anybody on the field as fast as he was. He’s good. He’s really, really fast.”
The Bears witnessed Heard at his best. The Cal and Oklahoma performances were exceptional. The rest of the season proved humbling.
Heard threw for 347 yards against Cal and averaged 93.3 passing yards in his nine other starts. He threw three touchdowns passes in Big 12 play. A Texas offense that changed playcallers after one game finished in the bottom 10 nationally in passing attempts, completions, yards and TDs.
Asked to reflect on those struggles, Heard replied simply: “I guess that’s the game of football.”
Another tough break: Heard suffered a shoulder injury at the end of March, one that sidelined him for the end of spring practice and caused him to fall behind Swoopes and Buechele.
So during the summer, he put on receiver gloves and tried to catch as many passes as he could. Texas coach Charlie Strong would deny Heard had moved to receiver, claiming he was just messing around with his teammates.
When fall practice began, Heard sat down with Strong and said he was serious about a switch.
“Jerrod has an unbelievable attitude,” Strong said. “You talk about a team and now you see where this team is headed, because now you're getting guys who are very unselfish.”
Heard does recognize that by joining the receivers, he has made a risky sacrifice. He gave up his black practice jersey, the one protecting QBs from any harm. The Texas defenders he’s trash-talked in practice can finally offer some payback.
“The day they took the black jersey away, I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of scared,” Heard said, “because the DBs, they loved it. The linebackers loved it. I remember I think it was Malik [Jefferson] and Tim Cole who said they’d been praying for this day.”
Heard might get that black jersey back someday. He could play quarterback again, and hinted he’ll play some Wildcat role this season. He considers himself an "athlete" for now, one who wants to help the Longhorns any way he can.
For all that he experienced last season, don’t forget he’s still only a sophomore.
“I haven’t given up,” Heard said. “In this game of football, anything happens.”