Northwestern began its spring football season Feb. 26 as the snow came down outside Ryan Fieldhouse. Tuesday also marked the beginning of new chapters for NU’s three early enrollees — cornerback Rod Heard, linebacker Michael Jansey Jr. and punter/kicker Trey Finison.
Inside NU caught up with Heard and Jansey after practice to talk about their transitions to Northwestern over the last two months.
Heard and Jansey are both three-star prospects. Heard, ranked as the No. 24 player in Michigan, hails from Farmington where he played cornerback and running back in high school.
Jansey is a local product, from just about an hour away in Batavia, Ill. The eleventh-ranked player in the state played linebacker and cornerback and was recognized as an Under Armour All-American. He said playing in the all-star game was a great experience.
“Just the competition -- I’ve never been in that level of competition before -- at that level was a fun time, and it was just a fun atmosphere and brotherhood,” Jansey said.
Both players said the transition to college life has been smooth albeit different from their high school lives.
Heard said the transition from high school to Northwestern has been a change because of having such a set daily routine that he didn’t have before and having much more rigid practice structure, while Jansey cited tricky academics as being a focus to keep up with.
Heard and Jansey also said they’ve benefitted from having mentors at their respective positions.
Heard has a mentor in Greg Newsome II, who enrolled early last winter and saw plenty of time at cornerback early in the season. Heard said Newsome has been helpful in helping him adjust.
“I’ve learned just to not worry about everything else, just focus on paying attention to detail, hustling and working hard,” Heard said. “There’s gonna be times, of course, ‘cause you’re young and everything’s new, that you’re gonna be confused and not know what’s really going on, but just go all out and 100 percent and you’ll be alright.”
Jansey said the entire linebacking corps has been really helpful, especially Blake Gallagher.
“Since I’m playing Will-backer, I’ve been talking to the Will-backers, especially Blake,” he said. “Blake’s been a huge part of that, and Paddy’s a great leader -- I know he plays Mike, but I’ve been trying to mentor from him -- and then Pete[r] McIntyre has been a really great mentor, and Grayson [Mann], and all those guys. All of the linebackers in general have been really good mentors to me and welcomed me.”
Heard said his decision to enroll early was influenced by his high school closing down soon. He said it was easy for him to come to Northwestern early by taking some online classes during the summer. He added, though, that being able to get a head start, begin learning the playbook and just be around the program was the driving factor.
Jansey said he made the decision to enroll early last summer, not long after his decision to commit to NU. He agreed with Heard that getting a head start, being around the guys and learning the playbook now is an important advantage.
Pat Fitzgerald made mention of the facilities at his spring lunch last week and how it helps make the players’ days more efficient. For the younger players living on North Campus, the proximity of Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center to the dorms make logistics simple.
“Everything’s so easy, accessible, everything’s so close together, and I’m really happy that I came to this school because these facilities are unmatched, really,” said Heard.
Jansey was eager to talk about growing up in the Chicagoland area and what made him want to be a part of the Northwestern culture.
“Family, academics and then just Coach Fitz and the level of competition here,” he said. “They just won the West last year, made it to the Big Ten Championship, and I want to be on a team like that, that wins championships.”