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Texas starting QB in 2015 will be the one who "wins the team"

Sometimes football is just like middle school all over again.

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When the Texas Longhorns coaches decide who will start the season opener against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 5, it will come down to a popularity contest decided by the players themselves.

There's no joke here -- head coach Charlie Strong said last Thursday that the quarterback who "wins the team" will earn the title of QB 1.

"I'm going to sit (the entire team) down in the locker room and ask 'em, ‘Who do y'all like best?'" redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard said jokingly.

Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose, right?

For Heard, it's all about being the most reliable quarterback on the team. He knows that wasn't the case last season, when he was admittedly frustrated about redshirting and let that frustration bled into his practice and film study habits.

"It just made me work harder," Heard said. "I have a lot to prove and it gave me a chip on my shoulder. I just wanted to go out there and be a reliable guy for the team in the spring and summer. I just have to keep proving that I'm getting better."

While the practice field will be the proving ground for Heard as a player, it will be also an important forum for his efforts to prove his leadership ability, a task that he can't put of until he wins the jobs.

"If I wait until I become a starter, I think that's too late," Heard said. "Every time I step on the field, I have to show it."

But there's a problem developing for Heard -- he hasn't been as realiable as he'd like through the first several practices, throwing three interceptions on Friday and failing to consistently hit the deep throws that quarterback Tyrone Swoopes can make more often because of his greater arm strength.

As much as Heard needs to impose his will on the team from a leadership standpoint, he doesn't need to force passes or bail on the pocket prematurely. He just needs to take what's available and make proper use of his best skill.

"I think right now he's just trying to force it so much," Strong said. "He's such a good athlete that good things will happen for him because of his athletic ability."

For Swoopes, it's been about managing the game and refining his mechanics -- checking down when necessary, making sure that his footwork is fundamentally sound, identifying defensive looks. As with Heard, though, Swoopes is paying close attention to the mental aspects of the game after he drew criticism from the coaching staff for his poor body language late in the season in addition to benefitting from the experience he gained in starting 12 games last season.

"The thing with Tyrone is he's more comfortable because he's been there and Jerrod hasn't," Strong said. "He can feel it, he can make the checks. He's a year into it, so he's seen all of the different coverages from all of the different teams."

Swoopes wasn't having fun on the field and it showed in the way he carried himself. Now he has a mindset that focuses on the positive thinking.

"Don't think about what can go wrong," Swoopes said last week. "Think about what can go right."

Along with that change, assistant head coach for the offense/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson sees a player who is constructively using outside criticism and doubt as a way to hone his focus and make turn himself into a hungry leader instead of that soft-spoken, mild-mannered demeanor that comes more naturally to him.

"I see a determined person," Watson said. "He's learned a lot from his experience last year. He learned some good things and he learned some bad things. I think he has a real edge to himself right now. He has something that he needs to prove."

Heard has plenty he needs to prove, too, and so the battle will play out on the practice fields, but it will also bleed into the campus dorms where the players and coaches are staying during fall camp -- as much as it will ultimately hinge mostly on perfomance, t's a battle for the hearts and minds of the entire team as the two quarterbacks try to create separation from one another.