Collin Heard knew a lot about North Texas long before he became one of the Mean Green’s top young sprinters.
Heard’s mother, Karen, graduated from UNT, his father, Robert, spent a few semesters at the school and both of his older brothers, Robert Jr. and Martin, and their wives also attended UNT. Martin Heard briefly made the football team as a walk-on before giving up the sport when he struggled to fit practice into his schedule.
“I used to come up when my brothers were in school and stay at their apartments and go to UNT events with them,” Collin Heard said. “I loved UNT before I even got to high school.”
The former Dallas Bishop Dunne standout will get his biggest opportunity yet to make an impact for the Mean Green this week at the Conference USA indoor track and field meet at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala.
Heard will compete in the 60 and 200 meters and run a leg on UNT’s mile relay team.
“It’s my first chance to make a name for myself and show what I can do,” Heard said. “I am happy to do my best to help my team win a championship.”
Winning the team title might be a long shot for UNT, which will compete in its first C-USA championship meet this week. UNT coach Carl Sheffield said the Mean Green’s new league is a step up from the Sun Belt Conference, where UNT traditionally was one of the top teams.
UNT had one of the deepest teams in the Sun Belt and often racked up points by having athletes who didn’t medal finish high enough to pick up points that weighed heavily in the team standings.
Picking up points in that manner could be tough for UNT this week. The Mean Green is depending on athletes like Heard to come through when it matters. Heard enters the meet ranked 18th in the 200 with a time of 21.77.
Sheffield said that UNT always seemed to exceed expectations during its time in the Sun Belt because its athletes made a habit of rising to the occasion.
“Collin could make some noise in the 200 meters,” Sheffield said. “He will be a standout outdoors and is starting to figure out indoors.”
Heard was more prepared for competing at the college level when he arrived at UNT because of his background in summer track. He ran for Texas FACES, one of the top club teams in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Some of Heard’s teammates went on to run for Kansas State, Texas A&M and New Mexico.
“He benefited from it,” Sheffield said. “There were kids on that team who were highly recruited. That helped improve his outlook on track. Those kids were going to A&M and LSU. He thought he was just as good.”
Heard’s time on that team helped him gain the exposure to college coaches he wouldn’t have received otherwise while competing for Bishop Dunne.
“When the other kids on his club team were at the Texas state 5A and 4A meets, everyone was there to see them,” Sheffield said. “No one goes to the TAPPS 4A state meet.”
Sheffield saw Heard over the summer and thought he would fit well with UNT’s program and its training philosophy because of his quick stride and competitive nature.
The fact that Heard knew he wanted to run for UNT also played a key factor in his journey.
Heard said his family’s ties to UNT are strong after so many members spent time at the school. He is carrying on a tradition that his brothers, who are seven and nine years older, helped establish a few years ago.
“I talked to coach Sheffield and let him know that this is where I wanted to go because all of my family went here,” Heard said.
Sheffield was more than happy to land Heard, who he thought was overlooked during his high school career.
“I saw him in the summer, and he was right up there with a lot of people,” Sheffield said. “I can’t think of any reason he was overlooked other than he ran at a private school.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.