He was the answer to everyone’s prayers.
And it took just one game, really. One glorious, jaw-dropping game at Royal-Memorial Stadium when he dazzled against California one September night in 2015, and Jerrod Heard’s name would be on every Longhorns fans’ lips the next morning. He was the dynamic quarterback Texas had been longing for since Colt McCoy walked off the Rose Bowl field in 2010.
Why, Heard even broke a Vince Young record for total offense that day.
Oh, the euphoria.
“Yeah, it was a great moment,” Heard recalled this week. “One of those games where I really showed my passion.”
And was that his finest UT moment, the top highlight in a satisfying career, albeit one that shockingly wouldn’t have as many for his mental scrapbook as everyone thought that night three years ago? Was that his best memory?
“No,” he said, unflinchingly. “We lost.”
Perfect answer for the perfect teammate, who wasn’t interested in casting blame when Nick Rose missed the crucial extra point in that 45-44 loss. Heard became the ultimate Longhorns hero. And in an instant, he was a Longhorns has-been.
Well, that’s way too harsh because while he has started only three games since he was deposed as starting quarterback and switched to wide receiver, he’s been central to the turnaround that has positioned 7-3 Texas near the top of the Big 12 going into Saturday night’s game against Iowa State.
“Jerrod is one of my favorite people who I’ve ever had a chance to coach,” receivers coach Drew Mehringer said. “He is the eternal optimist. Honestly, he’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever been around in my life.”
Heard’s always cheerful. He’s so relentlessly positive, someone should try to market it.
When he switched positions, he didn’t complain. When he sacrificed reps to work as the emergency quarterback, he was fine with it. When he was asked to play on the punt return and kick return teams, he willingly did. When the staff put him at Z or X or slot, he said OK.
“Jerrod is a guy that brings a lot of energy to practice and games, works extremely hard, knows how to prepare and is a great example for the younger guys,” head coach Tom Herman said. “There’s no question that a lot of that leadership comes from his days as a quarterback, and his positive outlook and fun-loving personality is infectious. His selfless, team-first attitude make him a great leader and an extremely valuable member of our team.”
In some respects, maybe even most valuable.
As Herman talks incessantly about building a winning culture at Texas, there’s no better example of that than Heard, the fifth-year senior who suppressed any selfish ambitions and remained upbeat, even in the worst of times. He never pouted, never even considered transferring. That’s not him. His teammates mean too much to him.
“I have so much love for them,” Heard said.
Sam Ehlinger may be the face of this resurgent Texas football team, but one thing is crystal clear. Jerrod Heard is the soul of these Longhorns. And maybe the team’s conscience.
Defensive end Charles Omenihu said as much.
“He’s always happy,” Omenihu said. He and Heard will be among the 26 seniors who will be honored Saturday ahead of their final game at DKR. “He’s sunshine. He’s a light, man. It showed up when he was called to be on the leadership council. That’s a good soul.”
Good soul, indeed.
His father, Reginald Heard, a Denton probation officer, makes every single home game with his wife Tina although they give equal devotion to Jerrod’s sister, Lauren, who plays basketball at TCU. Reginal Heard is hard-pressed to remember a single occasion where Jerrod upset his parents.
“The only time I ever got mad at him, he was riding his friend’s mini-bike one summer before his junior year in high school,” Reginald said. “He had been swimming, and got on the bike with no shirt and no shoes. One of his high school coaches saw him, stopped and told him to get off.”
“He’s been a wonderful child,” he said. “No problems with him at all.”
Why would they? He was known as Mr. Smiley at Denton Guyer, where he led the football team to a 36-8 record and back-to-back Class 4A state championships. Mack Brown hardly missed one of his games. Heard was sold on Texas after his recruiting trip to Austin on the same weekend as LSU-bound Leonard Fournette, whom he tried to persuade into joining him. “That was hard,” Heard said.
He arrived in Austin with much fanfare. That reached a crescendo when he turned Cal upside down with 527 total yards. He became only the second quarterback since McCoy to pass for 300 yards and run for 100 yards. He was tagged with the nickname “Juice” for the energy he brought.
Ehlinger watched that Cal game. It was the weekend of his high school homecoming.
“It was unbelievable,” he recalled. “I remember him running all over the place. He went off.”
And soon thereafter, he went away. But not for good. And not to sulk.
Heard lost his glamorous starting position and the accompanying limelight, but he didn’t mope.
“I know the impact I have in the locker room,” he said. “I’m not going to show pity or be down in front of them because I don’t know how many I’d bring down with me.”
Instead, he’s uplifted an entire team.
“I don’t even think he has the ability to frown,” senior guard Patrick Vahe said.
Heard was erratic as a quarterback. While a gifted athlete, he had trouble processing the information a quarterback has to mentally download every day in practice and then at warp speed on game days. Defenses took away the damage he could do with his legs, and Charlie Strong lost faith in him.
When a shoulder sprain took him out of spring drills the next year, he prayed over it like you’d expect a young man whose father sends him a Scriptures passage every morning after 8 a.m. On this day, it was text from Thessalonians — to give thanks, for it is the will of God. Jerrod replied with a thumbs-up emoji.
That spring, he assessed his situation, saw that he was fighting a losing battle at quarterback and asked to be moved to wide receiver. He took to the new position, and had some highlight reel catches like two touchdowns against UTEP and another against Notre Dame.
What does he recall about the reception against the Irish?
“I was caught at the 5,” he joked.
Always a realist, but also the optimist.
The smile has never left his face.
Heard may be this team’s most beloved teammate, maybe one of the most since Freddie Steinmark helped will Texas to a second national championship. Heard had no such dramatic health setback as the late Steinmark. He did have that injury that diverted him from his preferred path at quarterback, but he’s no less revered by everyone inside Moncrief.
That’s why the Longhorns were so thrilled when Heard contributed in such a big way to their 41-34 win over Texas Tech last week. After catching just three passes all season long, he hauled in six in Lubbock. Ehlinger threw to him 11 times, with three catches for first downs and another for nine yards that put Cameron Dicker just in range for his 52-yard field goal. His last one came on the game-winning drive.
“I was all hyped up in Lubbock,” nose tackle Chris Nelson said. “When you see him, you’d think he’s getting all the (glory). He always works like he’s a starter.”
And it’s always worked out for this positive senior, who has put team first. He’ll play his final home game Saturday and deserves a standing ovation. He’s already graduated with a degree in youth and community studies but is hopeful for an NFL chance before choosing a different career path.
It won’t be in politics. Could be in ministry. Or community involvement. Whatever he chooses, he’ll be smiling.
“I don’t have a lot of bad days,” Heard said.
And neither do those around him.