DENTON, Texas -- The very moment Denton Guyer head coach John Walsh saw Jerrod Heard sling a football for the first time, he knew he had his quarterback of the future.
Heard was in seventh grade.
“Just the way he threw the ball and his presence on the field,” Walsh said. “You can find a lot of guys that can run in seventh grade. But just the way he threw the ball so effortlessly, I knew he was going to be the guy.”
Walsh was right. Heard impressed so much during his sophomore year as Guyer’s starting quarterback in 2011 that he earned a scholarship from Texas, the lone one given to a signal-caller in 2014. He accepted it Tuesday.
That moment of assurance has been a long time coming.
It doesn’t take much to see why he’s so highly regarded. He oozes maturity, is built well beyond his years, and carries a calm awareness within him in the pocket that’s reminiscent of a paramedic’s composure during a moment of crisis.
Getting Heard to this level was all part of Walsh’s plan to get the very most out of this talent during that seventh-grade year. Walsh’s son, Oklahoma State redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh, was a budding sophomore for Guyer at the time. For Heard, it was all too good to be true really.
“Just getting used to the environment, being around coaches a lot,” Heard said. “I got good at just sitting down and studying. It was a big plus.”
John Walsh had Heard dive head first into the program. He was present for varsity practices and on the team bus for away games.
“He’s been in J.W.’s hip pocket since the beginning,” John said. “We got him around enough that he acts like he has been around it all his life.”
Then, as J.W.’s stock began to rise -- ESPN labeled him as a four-star prospect and the No. 10 quarterback in the country in 2011 -- Heard got an up-close view of the recruiting process.
“I learned a lot about the recruiting process and what [J.W.] saw because he made his decision just like mine,” Heard said. “He really just played the game and favored Oklahoma State from the beginning. I just saw him stay calm and be levelheaded.”
The Longhorns saw much of the same from Heard, which is why they targeted him as their lone quarterback prospect in 2014. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder should remain the only quarterback of the class barring unforeseen circumstances.
His first season as the starting varsity quarterback was impressive. He completed 130 of 223 passes for 2,286 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 650 yards on 136 carries and five touchdowns.
Those rushing numbers would have probably been much larger had Heard played like he did as a freshman, when he often broke out of the pocket as soon as the ball was snapped and used his athleticism to drive down the field.
But Heard knew that wouldn’t do at the Class 5A varsity level in Texas. He needed to compose himself and run the plays called.
Walsh said it’s rare for someone of his age and athleticism to come to that realization.
“Usually when you get and athletic guy like him they want to leave the pocket and do their stuff. But he is not that guy,” he said. “He wants to run the play called. If it really breaks down he can still make special things happen.”
That pocket awareness is one of the main attributes Texas coaches liked about his game, Heard said. Though the dual-threat capabilities certainly don’t hurt. They are both facets found in 2012 commitment Jalen Overstreet, who Longhorns co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin hand-selected, and 2013 commitment Tyrone Swoopes.
Proper footwork is already something Harsin has worked on with Heard and Swoopes. He pulled the two to the side for a workout during one of Texas’ camps in June. That attention to detail wasn’t lost on Texas’ newest commitment.
“It’s because he knows what he is talking about and he cares about us,” Heard said. “That’s a big thing, especially when he was working with me and Swoopes. He really tried to help us and make us better.”
By the time Heard gets to Austin, he and Swoopes will be two of four quarterbacks on the roster. Overstreet and Under Armour All-American Connor Brewer are both freshmen.
Heard is well aware of that fact but isn’t fretting about the threat of competition.
“One thing Harsin told me was I would play,” Heard said. “There is going to be competition there but I just have to come in and compete to get that spot. Any Division I school I would have gone to, there is going to be a big-time quarterback in front of me so I just have to work to get a spot.”
When he does arrive in Austin, Walsh knows he’ll be ready.
“When you offer a quarterback this early it is scary,” Walsh said. “But what I think makes it easy on Harsin, [Mack] Brown and [Major] Applewhite is everything is natural to him. If you watch him throw it’s natural. He’s a great runner with great instincts and just his knowledge of the game. They are getting a dynamic player.”