By John Davis – Oxford Citizen
Featured Writer – Rebel Nation Magazine
As Published in the September/October 2015 Issue
Photos Courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
Grant Heard called his return to coach the wide receivers at his alma mater as a “blessing.” For Heard, who played for the Rebels in the late 1990s under Tommy Tuberville and David Cutcliffe, there isn’t another school he would choose to coach at other than Ole Miss.
“Having played here, it’s really just a blessing to be able to come back and help the team out to the point where we can be competitive and be relevant in the SEC,” he said.
Heard wasn’t sure if he was a better coach now that he has returned to Oxford, but he did think that knowing Ole Miss so well helped him when it came time to recruit high school and junior college players.
“Being able to speak about experiences having lived it, I can talk to parents and tell them exactly what their kids are going to go through,” Heard said. “I know times change a little bit, but I can sit there and say I’ve done it. Especially with my guys that I have here now. To be able to say that I was in your shoes and Ole Miss changed my life and it can do the same thing for you, it’s great to be able to have that experience.”
Passion is the word Heard used to describe the feeling the alumni have for Ole Miss.
“Even when I wasn’t here, I still followed Ole Miss and I still wanted them to be the best in the country,” he said. “To be able to be a part of it now, it’s definitely special.”
Of all the games Heard played in, the come-from-behind win over SMU in 1998 was still at the top of his list.
“It’s hard to say one because there were a lot of great ones but the biggest would probably be that SMU game because it was the closest I got to play to my home,” said Heard, who is originally from Lake Jackson, Texas. “My grandmother got to come see me play, my brother, and to play in my home state and have all of my friends there, that one sticks out to me the most. To be able to come back and win that game like we did, that one stands out to me.”
Following his career with the Rebels, Heard signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002. He played in NFL Europe and he was attempting to earn a spot on the San Francisco 49ers, where his brother Ronnie played, when Heard started to see professional football evolve into a coaching career.
“I learned real early that I wasn’t made to have a suit on and sit inside,” he quipped. “I like being outside. I like football. It gives me a challenge since it always changes. To just now be around it, the nature of it, to be able to compete against other teams is big for me.”
Over the past three seasons, Heard has coached some great athletes. Donte Moncrief, who is now playing in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts, and Laquon Treadwell have been the headliners of a group that has garnered a lot of success overall. Heard said the offense the Rebels run is really the key to being able to recruit standout wideouts. But it’s not going to hurt when Treadwell gets drafted in the first round like he is projected to following the 2015 season.
“I think the offense attracts them because they see how much we throw it,” Heard said. “I’m not saying we get all the top wideouts, but they’re at least interested because of our style of offense. And having those type of guys like Laquon and Donte helps. Everyone wants to play with good players. Seeing the success that they’ve had, I think they want to be a part of it. For me to be able to say that we have a guy that we coached in the NFL that is being successful, and for me to tell a kid that he has those same type skills, and we think you can reach that same goal, that really helps. And to do it from our offense really helps because a lot of people say we’re not a pro-style offense or that it doesn’t equate to the NFL. Donte is a guy that has been in it and he’s doing fine.”
To make it in the NFL, Heard said, you have to be special from a talent standpoint, but maybe just as important is the amount of work that has to be put in.
“You have to put the time in and sacrifice a lot. I would like to say that it was just all coaching, but a lot of it is really them putting in the extra work and them wanting to be great,” Heard said.
When it comes time to recruiting a wide receiver, Heard said the first thing he wants to know about are his ball skills.
“That’s the biggest thing. Then you want to know how he gets in and out of cuts,” Heard added. “Then speed. Size is definitely a factor in it. The bigger you are, you don’t have to run as well. But the smaller you are, the more electric you have to be. There are 1,000 great wideouts in the country. You probably couldn’t tell one from the other if you just closed your eyes. The big thing for me is I want to get kids that want to be great on and off the field and in the classroom. That’s really important.”
Heading into the start of summer drills, Heard felt like his group had the depth needed to really compete in the SEC. Treadwell is healthy and ready to regain his form, while a newcomer like Demarkus Lodge seems poised to start his own legacy. The only thing Heard has asked them to do was to go out and compete.
“We’ve got some depth now and I want them to compete and go out and practice hard and win the day everyday they have the opportunity to be out there between those lines,” Heard said. “I don’t really have a goal saying that we have to do this or we have to do that. I just want them to go out there and play their butts off.”
And that statement never means as much as when it comes time to block in the running game.
“If you want to be great, you have to sacrifice yourself and Coach Freeze does a great job of talking about sacrificing and not being selfish,” Heard said. “That’s another part of it. Even when you’re not getting the ball, you have to give up your body and your effort in order for someone else to be successful. They’ve all bought into that and they all kind of compete and outdo each other. They all want to watch themselves on tape and say that they dumped their DB and you didn’t. They get competitive with it, so it’s been great.”
Heard was unsure how many wideouts will see time this coming season in the rotation. With the amount of players limited on the road, Heard was unsure if he would bring eight even though it appears he is that deep.
“The big men always get preference and you never seem to have enough of those guys,” Heard said. “I know I’m going to have as many ready as I can get. And if they’re called on, I have confidence that they can get the job done. Right now, whoever is in, I’ll be confident that they can produce and help us win.” – RN
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