Marcus Freeman has made the eighth addition through the transfer portal to Notre Dame’s 2024 roster, picking up defensive back Rod Heard II, who figures to nab a starting spot in the secondary. Heard’s arrival helps fill the gap left by the departures of both DJ Brown and Thomas Harper, with the veteran expected to be used at both safety and in nickel coverage.
Heard arrives from Northwestern, where he recently completed his fifth season with the Wildcats. That level of experience was a key reason why Notre Dame pursued him, despite considerable interest from Michigan. The only other safety candidates of note the Irish had before Heard’s decision were the virtually untested tandem of Adon Shuler and Ben Minich. In five games, Shuler was part of six tackles while Minich’s three games saw him involved in just one tackle.
Versatile High Schooler
During Heard’s prep days at Michigan’s Farmington Hills Harrison High School, he saw action on both sides of the ball. Besides playing at both running back and in the secondary, he also served as the holder for the team’s kickers. As a running back, he occasionally showed off his speed with game-breaking runs.
Heard’s senior year was clouded by the reality that Harrison would be closing at the end of the 2018-19 school year. Already committed to Northwestern and not affected by the pending closure, Heard still delivered on the field during a strong senior campaign. On offense, he rushed for 1,492 yards and 22 touchdowns, also collecting 277 yards on his 16 pass receptions. On the defensive side, he finished the year with 49 tackles.
On to Northwestern
The first two years of Heard’s tenure with the Wildcats didn’t offer a great deal of activity, with just one tackle as a freshman in 2019. The turmoil caused by the 2020 pandemic resulted in him and his Northwestern teammates playing only nine games, with Northwestern finishing 7-2 on the season. While he began that shortened season with six stops and a pass breakup in a rout of Maryland, he finished with just 10 stops on the year.
Getting back to normal in 2021, Heard began to offer a glimpse of his abilities, even though the team as a whole endured a rough season. He brought down eight Duke ballcarriers and also recovered one of the two fumbles he forced in that contest. In his final five games of the season, he closed strong by collecting 18 of his 31 tackles on the year, including s combined 13 in three games against nationally ranked conference opponents.
Heard’s 2022 campaign began slowly with just eight tackles in Northwestern’s first four games. Despite the Wildcats ending the season with a 1-11 record, his tackling ability was on display for the remainder of the year. In those final eight contests, he made 59 stops, never having fewer than five tackles in a game. On two occasions, he put up double-figure numbers in that category.
Offseason chaos then developed with the controversial July dismissal of former head coach Pat Fitzpatrick just weeks before the start of the team’s training camp. Getting past that messy situation, Heard had his best season yet, making 73 tackles, including seven or more in the Wildcats’ 13 games.
As in 2021, Heard closed out the year in strong fashion, collecting 29 tackles in Northwestern’s last three regular season clashes, including 13 in a win over Purdue. Despite the off-the-field turmoil to start the year, the Wildcats earned a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl, defeating Utah by a 14-7 score. In the game, Heard finished with 12 tackles.
During Heard’s original recruiting process in high school, one of the schools seeking to sign him was Cincinnati, when Freeman served as the Bearcats’ defensive coordinator. While that effort ultimately didn’t pan out, the Notre Dame mentor now has the opportunity to take advantage of the talents of a battle-tested veteran.
Heard is the second transfer infusion in the secondary for the Irish after Arizona State cornerback Jordan Clark previously decided to cast his lot with Notre Dame. In Heard’s case, he’ll be teamed with Xavier Watts, who delivered a breakout season in which he made 52 tackles and collected seven interceptions.
The hope is that Heard will be able to deliver the type of consistency that Harper provided this past season. Before opting out of the Sun Bowl, Harper had seen action in 11 of the Irish’s 12 regular season games, sitting out the Louisville loss due to a concussion. It will be quite a while before any assessment will be available on Heard’s 2024 contributions but his talents should be interesting to watch.