It's an old story. College football player must wait his turn. Becomes disgruntled. Leaves to find greener grass to run on.
Maybe it's this time of year. Winter conditioning is drudgery. There's time to think. There's a new recruiting class featuring the next big things coming and looking for your spot.
Maybe it's this generation. Whatever happened to hanging in there, waiting your turn, competing, earning that spot? When did it become about “me” and “now?”
And maybe this Braylon Heard story is about a lot more than that.
It's hard to know. It's hard to put a finger on it, much less even point one.
A sports media website in Heard's hometown of Youngstown, Ohio — myvalleysports.com — quoted sources saying Heard wanted to leave NU so he could play closer to home.
Another source close to Heard told The World-Herald he wanted to find a school where he could play more. Others say Husker coaches wanted Heard to play some snaps as a slot receiver.
I reached NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck and running backs coach Ron Brown on Wednesday. Both were recruiting and didn't want to comment on the Heard situation.
I did speak with a source on the NU coaching staff, who said Heard was offered a chance to play some snaps as a receiver, to utilize his speed and get him on the field with incumbent starter Ameer Abdullah. The source said Heard was “excited” about the possibility; my source said the idea of transferring must be tied to something else.
Man, that's a lot of sources for a backup running back.
Here's why this is an important story in the middle of the offseason: because it's becoming an all-too-familiar story for Nebraska football.
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Again, this is common practice in the college football world of big pressure and big egos. A lot of Johnny Four-Stars have their egos built up by fans, media and recruiting websites. They all think they can play. Not all of them can.
The best coaches in the country find a way to massage the egos, develop them and get them to stay — or win even if they leave.
Next week Bo Pelini is set to sign a touted class, perhaps his best. But it's fair to wonder how many will be developed and how many will stick out the road to Pasadena.
NU has had four high-profile recruits leave in the past year: defensive tackle Todd Peat Jr., offensive tackle Tyler Moore, running back Aaron Green and guard Ryan Klachko. Their reasons were different. Girlfriend, homesick, this thing, that thing.
But the common thread is this: Players who at least on paper were being counted on to help the program are no longer here.
And now Heard. Maybe. Pelini's comment earlier this week was that Heard's status hadn't changed. The junior remains on campus, “in” the program. Once the staff is back on campus next week, there could be an effort to reach out to the kid and persuade him to reconsider.
If that's still possible, let's hope they come with a plan.
Heard isn't the first player to get bounced around a roster. But this kid can run the ball. He's got speed, some nice moves and is able to get yards between the tackles. Whenever he did play, he looked like the kind of back you thought should get the ball more.
But when Pelini needed a body at defensive back, he enlisted Heard. Last spring, instead of working on his pass blocking or his run skills, Heard spent time learning the secondary.
When Green left, Heard was brought back to the offense. Rex Burkhead got hurt. Abdullah, a speed guy with all-around skills, became the feature back. Imani Cross got short-yardage reps.
Where was Heard? When I asked Ron Brown about Heard not getting more carries last fall, Brown seemed irked at the question, saying if a back like Abdullah is performing well, you don't take him off the field. He wondered if Mike Rozier or Ahman Green should have been replaced so the backup could get reps.
I'm no coach, but I'd say yes, to keep the backups sharp, to keep them interested if they're a long-term answer. Offensive tempo is a precious thing to interrupt, but I thought Heard could have had more carries. And, toward the end of the season, Abdullah appeared beat up and less effective.
Tom Osborne had the luxury of huge rosters, but he also found ways to put backups in at specific times of the first half.
Now, Abdullah had better not get hurt or worn down next season, or the next man in will be a true freshman. That could be a good thing. Could be a risky thing, too.
Maybe Heard was excited about the slotback idea. Maybe he was looking at two more years of Abdullah and the incoming fresh legs. Maybe he saw himself as a kid who was being yanked around in the program, without a promise of development or continuity.
Player development has not been a strong suit recently in the Pelini program. Even last month, before the bowl game, Pelini acknowledged that pulling the redshirts off some of the freshman defensive tackles probably would have helped the team. It was a 20/20 second-guess. But it also reminded that Pelini is a fifth-year coach who didn't have the opportunity to run his own program until he got this big-boy job.
Jamie Williams, the former Husker tight end and now associate athletic director, told me a story of how Osborne once noticed Williams was down in the dumps and inspired him to hang in there, saying he would be a star some day. I wonder if Pelini has that knack.
I also wonder if a guy like Jack Stark could be used in the program again. Stark, a nationally known sports psychologist who worked with Nebraska's teams in the 1990s, has said you would be amazed how many different problems live in each locker of a football team, and a coaching staff can't possibly have time to hear or learn them all.
Losing a kid like Heard doesn't further the notion that Pelini is getting it, that there's a plan, that he's learning what it takes to win a championship.
And maybe there's some outside force, or assistant coach at another program, who saw Heard's situation as an opening to make a promise.
What matters is the bottom line: Programs trying to win championships can't afford to lose their top talent. At Nebraska, it's a story that's getting old.
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