Former Mooney star coming home

Braylon Heard, Cornhuskers face

Saturday night showdown vs. OSU

By Tom Williams

Nebraska running back Braylon Heard vivdly remembers how wild the atmosphere can be in Ohio Stadium.

During his junior year at Cardinal Mooney High, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Heard made a visit to Columbus for the Ohio State-Michigan game.

“It was crazy,” said Heard of the Buckeyes’ 42-7 romp. “The fans were very into the game.

I think it was [tailback] Beanie Wells’ senior year.”

Saturday night, Heard will return to Ohio Stadium when No. 21 Nebraska (4-1) plays No. 12 Ohio State (5-0).

Heard said his mother, Michelle Sullivan, and several aunts and friends will be watching from the stands.

He is is no stranger to big-time games. During his four years at Mooney, the Cardinals played in three state championship games, winning in 2006 and 2009.

During his senior year, Heard rushed for 1,973 yards and scored 24 touchdowns. He also caught a pair of touchdown passes and returned kickoffs and punts for the 15-0 Cardinals.

In the Division III state title game, Heard rushed for 178 yards on 28 carries, including touchdown runs of 53 and 26 yards against Columbus DeSales. The first-team All-Ohio running back also had a touchdown pass and an interception. His journey back to Columbus is not typical. After making a verbal commitment to West Virginia University, Heard switched to Nebraska.

Asked what he remembers from his visit to Lincoln, Neb., Heard laughed.

“Snow, there was snow everywhere so we didn’t do too much,” said Heard, saying he was won over by how “all the people and the facilities were Grade A. It kind of reminded me of back home.”

Heard graduated from Mooney in 2010, but was ineligible to accept his Nebraska scholarship because of a low ACT score.

In December 2010, Heard scored high enough on the ACT to become eligible. He enrolled at Nebraska in January 2011.

Last fall, Heard played in seven games, carrying the ball 25 times for 114 yards and a touchdown.

Last spring, the Cornhuskers experimented with using Heard on both sides of the ball. In July, head coach Bo Pelini, a graduate of Mooney and Ohio State, announced that Heard would concentrate on running back.

Tim Beck, the Cornhuskers’ offensive coordinator, also is a Mooney graduate.

One reason for the move back to the offensive backfield was Aaron Green transferring to TCU.

Heard is third on the depth chart behind senior Rex Burkhead and sophomore Ameer Abdullah. In the Cornhuskers’ first five games, Heard carried the ball 25 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns. His longest run covered 27 yards.

He called last Saturday’s 30-27 victory over Wisconsin the biggest of the season.

“It was a great feeling when it was over,” Heard said. “We came out in first half and didn’t execute much on offense.

“But we got it right in second half.”

Although Nebraska has three Mooney graduates on the roster (junior wide receiver Tim Marlowe and sophomore center Mark Pelini) and is led by by two coaches with deep Ohio ties, Heard feels that Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan — and not Ohio State — are the Cornhuskers’ top rivals.

“Maybe it’s because of their location,” Heard said.

He reflected on the similarities he’s observed in Bo Pelini and Mooney head coach P.J. Fecko.

“Both are great coaches,” Heard said.

What about Pelini’s intense style compared to Fecko’s relative calmness on the sideline?

“When thing get crazy, they can be alike,” Heard said. “They also know how to chill out.”

Heard said the Mooney bond has helped him get to know Pelini.

“It’s helped that he knows where you’re coming from,” said Heard, who said they’ve found quiet time “here and there where he’s told stories of when he played.”

Heard has chosen psychology for his major. Asked if anything he’s learned in the classroom helps on the field, Heard paused.

“I guess just trying to remain calm when all that crazy energy is all around.”

He may get to put that information to the test on Saturday.

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