How important is Denton Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard to the 2014 recruiting class for the Texas Longhorns?
Besides being the top-rated commit and best offensive player in the group, Heard is the figurehead for the class, as quarterbacks tend to be, the potential future for the Texas offense, the potential future team leader, the potential future fulcrum upon which the rest of the team may come to pivot -- that's the importance of a quarterback with enough talent to become a difference-maker with his arm and legs.
Heard could have been the single most disastrous loss for the class -- leaving Texas without a quarterback in the 2014 class in a year when even if the Longhorns had managed to find another late, the drop-off even to the second-best quarterback in the state would have represented a major downgrade.
And the Horns wouldn't have landed the second-best quarterback in January. Landing a quarterback with any type of significant potential would have been highly improbable.
There were plenty of times that the 6'3, 190-pounder could have wavered as programs like Baylor, LSU, and Ohio State extended offers and pursued him after he ended the process in August of 2012 when he decided to become one of the first earliest commits in Texas history.
He could have wavered when former head coach Mack Brown resigned and the offensive coaching staff that recruited him moved on.
Instead, Heard remained steadfast with his pledge -- there was never any buzz that he wanted to take visits or look around. He was just rock solid in his decision to become a Longhorn, just as Texas fans hope that he will be rock solid under pressure in critical situations in burnt orange and white when he's the most important player on the field.
So at a time when threatened fans like to say that Texas and Charlie Strong only need players who want to be at Texas, Heard was exactly what they were talking about -- a top recruit who wanted to be a Longhorn and had throughout virtually the entire process.
Unfortunately, Heard's friendship with Lewisville Hebron safety Jamal Adams wasn't enough for Adams' interest to survive the coaching change, but the former Guyer quarterback did make his way down to Austin on the last weekend before Signing Day to help ensure that Abilene Cooper wide receiver Lorenzo Joe stayed in the class and to help recruit Elijah Rodriguez, the Cy Creek offensive tackle who also visited the same weekend and changed his commitment from Colorado.
When new head coach Charlie Strong needed assistance form someone with a relationship with Joe, Heard was there.
It was the type of leadership that Strong praised along with Heard's athleticism during his press conference on Wednesday.
"It's always great because when you talk about the quarterback position, he's always going to be one of the leaders of your team," Strong said. "He's an outstanding athlete and, like I said, not only can he beat you with his feet, he can throw the football. He's just a quality person, because you always talk about the character of the young man. He comes from a great family - great mom and dad - but that's what you want and that's what you look for in your program."
The success and the accolades
For Heard, the numbers and the achievements and the accolades tell the story of his high school career, one that began as a sophomore with big shoes to fill replacing current Oklahoma State quarterback JW Walsh, himself a US Army All-American who threw for almost 3,200 yards, 35 touchdowns and only six interceptions as a senior and added another 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in leading Guyer to an appearance in the state title game.
Heard's response as a lanky youngster?
How about completing 130-of-223 passes for 2,286 yards and 28 TDs with just 10 interceptions, while rushing for 650 yards and five TDs on 136 carries?
By the end of the following season, Heard hadn't just appeared in a state championship game, he'd won one. By the end of his high school career last fall, he'd won another.
By the time he signed with Texas on Wednesday, he was a US Army All-American, Dave Campbell Texas Football's Offensive Player of the Year, first-team All State, and the state's top quarterback by DCTF, among other accomplishments.
He also finished with just over 11,600 total yards in the high school career, including back-to-back seasons of more than 2,000 yards rushing, 6,500 total passing yards, and matching touchdown totals of 67 through the air and on the ground -- that's 134 total touchdowns in three seasons, for those counting.
The context always matters.
When Heard bounced a called quarterback run to the left boundary and scored a five-yard touchdown late in the third quarter against Georgetown in the 4A state final in 2012, it wasn't just any moment -- it was the Texas signee leading his team back from a 30-14 deficit to take the lead for the first time since the second quarter.
Of course, the play also matters -- Heard escaping the first edge defender and then out-racing the lunging arm tackle of the play side linebacker, then lowering his shoulder against the third on-coming opponent at the two-yard line, winning the leverage battle there with some final leg drive and then meeting the fourth and final obstacle a yard later, sliding off and into the end zone.
Jerrod Heard of Denton Guyer Dodges 4 Tackles For Touchdown (via 808MediaHouse)
Combine the play and the context and Heard's capacity for rising to the moment becomes incredibly palpable.
"That was the first time I've run someone over like that to get into the end zone," Heard told the Denton Record-Chronicle. "I always talk about doing it, but to actually do it at Cowboys Stadium and get in there, that was really exciting."
And so Heard lead his team back from the verge of defeat, by using every ounce of his lean, 190-pound body to force his way into the end zone because the game was on the line and there was no way that any members of the Georgetown back seven were going to deny him.
Heard helped account for all seven touchdowns scored by Guyer in that 48-37 win in 2012, finishing with 143 rushing yards on 24 carries and went 8-for-13 for 189 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a 71-yard throw to eventual Colorado signee Ellis Jefferson, who also scored another score on the day.
In 2013, Heard went against a Brennan defense featuring star Texas defensive end signee Derick Roberson that had only given up two touchdowns all season when the first team was on the field -- in 14 games, the defense as a whole had given up only 51 points. That's 3.6 points per game.
The game was merely business as usual for Heard, however, who was perfect through the air, going 9-for-9 for 97 yards and a passing touchdown, along with a greater amount of damage on the ground with 146 yards on 23 carries, scoring two touchdowns along the way.
By the time he was done, he had individually scored more touchdowns against the first-team Brennan defense than the entire rest of the San Antonio school's opponents.
Maybe the immensely talented Allen defense would have been able to slow Heard down. Maybe not.
Maybe there wasn't a defense in the state either year that could have slowed down Heard and the Guyer Wildcats.
Elite 11 growth
Heard's problem as a prep quarterback going into his senior season, to the extent that there was one for the heralded prospect, was that while the ball usually got where he wanted it to go, it didn't always have the tightest of rotations.
However, the Jerrod Heard on display at the Elite 11 Finals last summer in Oregon looked like a remarkably different quarterback then the one who showed up to the Dallas Elite 11 camp in early April.
At the time, Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer was quick to point out Heard's improvement when asked about the quarterback's development during a media availability.
"He's worked on it. He's spinning it now," Dilfer said, wasting no time getting down to the overview of his pupil's advancement.
Jerrod Heard (far right) taking a drop at the Elite 11 Finals -- Student Sports
As Dilfer explained to SB Nation Recruiting back in April, the most crucial component to a quarterback's spiral is their wrist load.
Ready for some technical discussion of quarterback mechanics? Dilfer, as always, was willing to oblige.
"Opposite equals is a position that every great passer gets," Dilfer had said. "So when the hands separate, you have elbow-wrist association -- your elbow and wrist are going to be somewhat level. That's going to create a natural load in the wrist. But the opposite part of that is the left arm at the back point, what we call opposite equals, is going to be very equal to your right arm and opposite relationship. That happens on foot strike. That's what starts the sequencing."
Dilfer then launched into a discussion of the areas in which Heard needed to improve. The areas in which Heard had in fact improved through his hard work and dedication to the process.
"In Dallas, he did a bunch of things wrong. He lifted before foot strike and then tried to save it on foot strike and there was always compensation," Dilfer said. "I conceptualized it with him before he missed the next day because of a track meet and I talked to his coach about it and some other staff members helped him throughout this time. To his credit, he worked on it, because today we had some pictures and it was really close. So you take that body, which has a ton of juice in it, and get him in the right positions, and the ball finishes."
More than just improvement in mechanics, which are hardly insignificant, Heard impressed Dilfer in other ways.
"I was concerned. I'll be honest with you," Dilfer said of Heard entering the finals when asked about the biggest surprises during the first two days of work in Oregon.
"He was the one in the war room I had concerns about -- not as a player because he's one of the best players I've seen all year, but I didn't know how he would handle this environment. He just doesn't play in a traditional, passing game offense. And I'd put him in the top eight right now if you forced me to make a list."
Since Elite 11 is more than just about mechanics and rising to the challenge of a difficult environment, Heard had to answer other questions Dilfer had for all the quarterbacks regarding their ability to digest the large quantity of information contained in the Elite 11 playbook, which the quarterbacks had two weeks to study.
"I wanted to test how good our methods were," Dilfer said. "I wanted to take the high-level athlete who is maybe raw as a passer and see if in a short amount of time we can polish them. And what I've seen, it's coming to fruition. Now, to his credit, Heard spent a ton of time with the playbook."
Jerrod Heard at The Opening -- Steve Dykes (USA TODAY Sports)
"Whoever worked with him leading up to this, he got good, sound training," said the Elite 11 head coach. "He didn't want to take any snaps from shotgun, he wanted everything under center. His balance, his rhythm, his timing, his drop, it was like a guy who had been playing from under center forever."
However, Heard still wasn't quite a finished product, despite the well-earned praise. On one day, he was a bit slow to check down to his running back and sometimes let his feet get a bit a heavy instead of keeping them alive as he moved his eyes. Dilfer isn't concerned, though, noting that it's a common problem for many of the quarterbacks at the finals and an easy skill to improve.
"Check downs are the hardest thing for everyone," Dilfer said Saturday evening. "Most high school quarterbacks don't throw check downs unless your running back is a freak and you design it. Every year, for the first couple of days, the check downs are sloppy. By the end, they get it -- it's just tying your eyes to your feet. He gets it. We've talked about it in here and they've seen it, so that's the least I'm worried about."
And given the on-field production that helped Heard emerge as the only real Texas quarterback target in the 2014 class and it's probably safe to say that the Longhorn offensive brain trust isn't any more concerned about Heard checking down than Dilfer.
Heard was sequencing better by keeping his right and left arms level during his delivery to better load his wrist, helping the ball come out better and finish better, with greater accuracy and velocity. It was scary news for Guyer opponents this fall and heartening news for the new offensive coaching staff.
The Elite11 process and general continued maturation of Heard didn't have much of an impact on his overall numbers, as his completion percentage remained about the same and his interception rate increased slightly, the improvement was apparent on his senior film.
Just like the ball coming out of his hand at The Opening pictured above, with the tip of the ball coming out of dead level, evidence of it's tight flight, Heard's development with his sequencing helped consistently increase his velocity, which even seemed to help him on the run like a throw at the 2:37 mark where the juice in Heard's body that Dilfer mentioned was apparent from the snap he got on the football.
He wasn't perfect, as a ball at about the :55 mark flutters a bit before Heard delivers a frozen rope on a perfect deep ball that was spun incredibly well. And down the seam at 3:19, another pass ripped by the future Texas signal-caller after his touch in the red zone and on another intermediate routes was on display, something that Heard has always done well.
In the Army All-American Bowl, Heard struggled some during practice in cutting the wind on several days when the weather conditions were far from ideal. Based on his senior film, it wasn't necessarily a result of Heard's mechanics breaking down to the level he was at during his sophomore and junior seasons before the Elite 11 work, but it also wasn't ideal for projecting Heard in college games when the weather conditions are nasty, like Missouri 2011, Kansas 2012, and the Baylor game last fall -- the Horns play in one of those games each season.
Heard breaking around the corner on his 38-yard run (Brian Lang -- Army Recruiting).
During the game, Heard missed on all three of his passes, but also broke off a 38-yard run down the sideline that showed how his athleticism can translate to a game full of potential collegiate stars. By the time the West had pulled out their resounding victory over the East, Heard was the game's leading rusher with eight carries for 63 yards.
Heard didn't have the best week of practice, as evidenced by the fact he was the third-string quarterback on the depth chart, but it's also the case that his body of work at the high school level and at the Elite 11 far outweighs an All-Star game with little to no significance.
Most of all, what Heard provides for Texas is some hope for the future, some salvation for a 2014 class that in many ways could end up being seen as a lost group because of all the decommitments and high-profile misses, especially in the secondary.
Heard provides the assurance that even if there are other productive quarterbacks from this class, Texas fans can always look back and say that the Longhorns landed the best available quarterback from Texas in 2014 by a wide margin.
Heard is future depth, insurance against Tyrone Swoopes never fulfilling his prodigious potential, the safe take and rare prospect with both a high floor and a high ceiling after the low floor, high ceiling take in Swoopes.
Heard is the top dual-threat quarterback in the country, a two-time state champion, a quick learner, a player who rises to the moment, and the possible post-David Ash future for the Texas quarterback position.
And all of those things together make him the most important commit in the 2014 recruiting class and eventually may make him the most important piece for a resurgent Texas program.
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