AUSTIN, Texas – Jerrod Heard has the date on his mind and on his calendar.
“June 3,” Heard said. “Then it’s showtime.”
The soon-to-be Texas quarterback was one of five Longhorns signees who returned to Austin to compete at the Texas Relays. It's one of his final visits before he makes the big move. It was a weekend off from a spring semester that can’t end soon enough. There are classes to complete and diplomas to collect, but the Texas campus is where they all want to be.
“It’s a teaser,” running back signee D’Onta Foreman said, “because we’re ready to graduate, ready to get up here and compete for a spot and be with our teammates and family for the next four years.”
It’s hard to appreciate in the heat of the annual January and February recruiting flurry, but the uncertainty of the coaching change couldn’t have been easy to navigate for Texas' commitments.
All five competing over the weekend -- Heard, Foreman, his twin brother Armanti Foreman, John Bonney and Donald Catalon -- committed to play for Mack Brown and watched that plan shatter in December. Charlie Strong rode in and inspired hope, but there was no way he could pick up all the pieces for these prospects in so little time.
Signing with Texas required patience, trust and, to some extent, a leap of faith. But they stuck with their pledges, and soon they’ll be back on the 40 Acres for good.
Heard is doing everything he can to prepare. He spent spring break in San Diego working with a handful of college quarterbacks with renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield.
The Denton Guyer star is dedicated to detail, and Whitfield is a pro at pointing out the little flaws. Heard is focused on improving his accuracy in any possible way, from how he holds the ball and bends his wrist to the balance in his legs.
“I think the smaller the things you can try to perfect, the more I can use my ability as a runner and thrower,” Heard said.
From an offensive standpoint, he’s comfortable with what’s coming next for Texas. At Guyer, he operated an offense that borrowed heavily from Oklahoma State’s concepts and playbook. That will make working under offensive coordinator Joe Wickline easier, and Heard likes the guru reputation that assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson brings.
As for how Strong is changing the Horns, Heard isn’t afraid of the head coach’s emphasis on discipline.
“That’s really going to mold us together. I’m all for it and really like it,” Heard said. “I think that’s why they’re starting out with the discipline, and I think that’s really going to change the team. We’re really going to shock a lot of people this year.”
Bonney has been able to witness the effects firsthand. By attending spring practice this month, the Houston Lamar safety received a clearer understanding of what it will be like to play for the new staff. One comment certainly got Bonney’s attention in his conversations with Strong.
“He says the defense is going to win the games this year for him,” Bonney said. “... That really struck a chord with me.”
Landing Bonney was a bit of a close call for Texas after he took official visits to Baylor and Auburn. Looking back, he said those trips were motivated by uncertainty. Watching defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and secondary coach Chris Vaughn in practice answered some of his biggest questions.
“They’re really cool,” Bonney said. “Coach Vaughn is more of a talker; he likes to coach you up that way, loves giving you visual things. Coach Bedford is so smart. It feels like he knows just about everything. I’ve been in meetings and his teaching film was real cool, real cerebral. You get the best of both worlds with those two.”
Bonney knows his best shot at playing in 2014 are on special teams and in nickel packages. Catalon doesn’t expect many carries as a backup to Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, but the Houston Eisenhower back does hope to help out.
For him, sticking with Texas wasn’t a tough call. New running backs coach Tommie Robinson recruited Catalon while at USC. That familiarity made all the difference in staying put, and Strong sealed the deal.
“I like Coach Strong. He wants to win and he’s about business,” Catalon said. “The players they already have are good. It’s not like we have to rebuild. We just have to get to know the coaches.”
Armanti and D'Onta Foreman made the Texas coaches sweat in January when they nearly took a visit to Missouri, but the Texas City brothers say now they would’ve ended up in burnt orange no matter what.
They have big dreams for 2014. Armanti wants to play receiver and also line up on defense in certain packages, and he’d like a shot at returning kicks. D’Onta wants to stick at running back but is open to any position if that doesn’t work out. They want to contribute from Day 1.
They got to ponder these dreams again on Friday while playing pool in the players’ lounge at Texas’ football facility. Like the rest of the signees back in town, they took a chance on a program they’d long loved and a coach they hardly knew.
But they saw what he did at Louisville, and they know what needs to be done at Texas.
“I feel like he can come here and help us be a great team like that,” Armanti Foreman said, “and hopefully even better.”