Three years ago, Tyler Herrick had his sights set on playing quarterback for Penn. Now, he has a chance to be the Quakers’ No. 1 wide receiver.
The senior was recruited by Penn after throwing for more than 5,000 yards and rushing for nearly 2,000 more in his two years as the starting quarterback at Hutto High School in Texas. A few miles north of Austin, Hutto has a population of about 15,000. And like many small towns in the Lone Star State, there are few things in Hutto that bring people together more than high school football.
“It was like your typical Friday Night Lights [environment], Texas high school football,” Herrick said. “It was big time in the sense that we had 1,000 people at our regular season games, and come playoffs, it was crazier.”
After his standout career at Hutto, Herrick was prepared to take the next step and become a collegiate quarterback. But during his freshman year at Penn, he found himself behind a couple of other quarterbacks on the depth chart and didn’t see the field all season.
That’s when Herrick and the coaches decided that a change was necessary. With his speed and natural athleticism, Herrick was still seen as an asset by coach Ray Priore and the offensive staff, which led him to make the change to receiver. Overall, the transition has paid dividends.
“He has a confidence about himself now. It was a little bit of a slow process getting him ready to play receiver, but the athletic part he was able to handle quite quickly,” wide receivers coach Rick Ulrich said.
“It wasn’t that tough because at quarterback you learn the entire offense, you know everyone’s routes, so making that transition as far as learning the playbook, learning my routes — scheme-wise — was easy because I knew what I had to do already,” Herrick said.
But even though Herrick already had a grasp on what he was supposed to do as a receiver, execution turned out to be one of the main difficulties for him.
“I would say the biggest [challenge] was route running,” Herrick said. “That’s a skill you need to fine-tune to be good at it, and coming out there, I was like a baby giraffe at first. I didn’t have my legs under me, but it came with time.”
Although route-running may have been an adjustment for Herrick, he has steadily become more involved in the offense.
As a sophomore — his first season playing wide receiver — Herrick appeared in five games and had one catch for 29 yards in the Quakers’ matchup against Columbia. He increased his production last season, as Penn quarterbacks spread the ball to more players after star receiver Justin Watson’s graduation in 2018.
Herrick finished his junior season with eight receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He and fellow senior wideout Kolton Huber are the only two players on this year’s roster who caught a touchdown pass in 2018.
Herrick and the rest of the offense have been spending the offseason learning the system that first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Morris has installed. While learning a new offense is difficult in itself, the Quakers are also putting new players at wideout to make up for the graduation of Steve Farrell, Christian Pearson, and Mike Akai.
Seniors Abe Willows and Eric Markes are making the transition to receiver from running back and cornerback, respectively. And Herrick has been instrumental in making sure all of the receivers, both new and old, are on the same page.
“There’s a lot of multiplicity in the offense, and we ask our offensive guys to go from boundary receiver to field No. 2 in the slot to field No. 1. And he’s one of those guys this year in the preseason that has grasped everything. He knows what to do,” Ulrich said. “He and Kolton [Huber] are going to be the leaders. Kolton’s a little bit more vocal; Tyler is not as much. But the thing that Tyler does for me is if somebody doesn’t know while they’re on the field, he communicates to them. He’s a coach on the field.”
In addition to being a field general, Herrick’s speed is what makes him a threat to the opposing defenses. In fact, the senior also runs for Penn track, competing at 60, 200, and 400 meters, as well as a couple of relays. Herrick and his relay team earned second team All-Ivy honors after their performance in the outdoor 4x400 last season, and he also holds the ninth-best time in Penn history in the indoor 200.
While playing one college sport is difficult as it is, being a two-sport athlete is a unique challenge that Herrick has taken in stride.
“In the spring, that’s when it gets tough because you have spring ball, and then you’re in season for track,” Herrick said. “So typically I’d come in in the morning, we'd have spring ball practice or lift, and then come in the evening and have track practice. So I spend a lot of time down here at the [Franklin Field].
“It was a lot, but it’s not anything I can’t handle. I think it’s just about prioritizing my time and cutting out blocks of time and making sure I’m getting my studying done, eating right, and being in the training room.”
Herrick’s Penn career has been filled with changes and transitions, but this season, the senior finally has an opportunity to solidify himself as one of the premier playmakers for the Red and Blue.
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