When Jerrod Heard is honored during Texas’ Senior Night this Saturday, he’ll likely receive a standing ovation. But it won’t just be for what he’s done in his Longhorn career. It’ll be for what he didn’t do: leave.
The fifth-year senior arrived in Austin in 2014. Some called him Jerrod and others called him “The Juice,” but everybody called him the future of Texas football after one performance against Cal in 2015.
After facing a 21-point deficit, Heard led a vicious comeback, capped off by a 45-yard run with just over a minute left in the ball game. Heard’s touchdown pulled the Longhorns within one, 45-44. All Texas’ kicker Nick Rose had to do was send the extra point through the uprights and Heard would have the opportunity to polish off his comeback in overtime.
The kick sailed wide right.
“I didn’t even watch,” Heard said. “I just heard the crowd.”
The miss cemented a 45-44 loss, but not before Heard recorded 364 yards in the air and 163 on the ground — enough to break the school record for total yards, a record once held by a player by the name of Vince Young. It was clear the future belonged to Heard.
“I was just sitting there like, ‘Wow, that’s a cool feat to have,’ but also I wanted to win the game,” Heard said.
That’s all Heard has ever wanted to do at Texas. And while he didn’t realize it, that September night in 2015 was Heard’s peak at quarterback. He was eventually demoted to backup. Then, a shoulder injury all but ended Heard’s quarterback career at Texas.
Some said he could transfer while others said he should.
“The easy way out is to just up and leave,” Heard said.
Instead, he left the quarterback position and tried his luck at wide receiver. The move saw approval from coaches and his parents, and he did it the same way he does everything else he’s done in his time at Texas: with a smile on his face.
“I don’t think he has the type of ability to frown,” offensive lineman Patrick Vahe said. “That guy is always smiling, it’s weird. I just gave up. I said, ‘This guy is always going to be happy regardless of anything so I’ll just leave him alone.’ I try not to bring his day down. If Jerrod wants to be Jerrod, he can be Jerrod.”
While Jerrod’s never-wavering smile made it appear as if he was getting the majority of the reps in practice, he was still stuck under Lil’Jordan Humphrey on the depth chart and stayed there for the majority of this season.
But Heard finally got an opportunity. During practice last Wednesday, wide receiver Collin Johnson went down with a knee injury, freeing up just enough space on the depth chart for Heard. However, the game plan wasn’t as easy as plugging in Heard for Johnson.
“We said ‘LJ, you’re going to go to X (receiver), Jerrod you’re going to go and be the starting H (receiver). Oh, but by the way there’s going to be some plays where we’re still going to want LJ at H, so you’re going to go to X on those plays,” Herman said. “‘And you’re going to have to learn those plays,’ and he did all of that within about 48 hours.”
And he cashed in on his opportunity. The Juice studied the play book for the rest of the week before hauling in six receptions for 54 yards, including an 11-yard grab during Texas’game-winning drive.
“I was happy for him and his performance,” defensive end Charles Omenihu said. “He showed up when his number was called, as a senior … I’m glad he got the
opportunity to shine.”
Heard’s opportunities to perform in front of his home crowd have now dwindled down to just one. He says he plans on training for a chance to play in the NFL. And while the former starting quarterback-turned-backup-quarterback-turned-wide-receiver’s career is officially coming to an end, the legacy he is
hoping to leave remains the same.
“I just wanted to win games for the University of Texas,” Heard said. “That’s basically it. There is nothing else. That’s all I really wanted for UT. I wanted a championship, and I still believe that can happen. But the whole thing I just want to leave is I just wanted to win and I’m a competitor, regardless of what I’m doing.”