Former Dwyer star Gerald Hearns rising up FAU RB depth chart

Florida Atlantic running back and former Dwyer star Gerald Hearns carries the ball during running back drills on March 24, 2018. (Jake Elman / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — At only 21 years of age, Florida Atlantic running back Gerald Hearns has already written books, spoken at events and is planning to run his own business when his football career ends.

But when Hearns isn’t mapping out his future, the fifth-year senior is trying to soak in what could potentially be his final season of football. Part of the fun comes from Hearns enjoying increased carries as a first-team replacement running back to start spring camp.

“One thing about me (is) I can control what I can control,” Hearns said. “Things that I can control (are) coming up here every day, watching extra film. I control calling my coach to ask him questions or (FAU offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr.) if I’m unsure about a certain blitz or a particular play. It’s my job to control going home and re-reading over my install, coming back (the) next day and focusing on the small details.”

Controlling the effort he puts into things is nothing new for Hearns, a former star running back at Dwyer High who earned local attention for receiving the Coach Frank D.B. DiCocco Memorial Scholarship in 2014 because of his leadership and individual success in school. After starting his collegiate career at Florida A&M, Hearns joined the Owls in August 2016 and redshirted during FAU’s 3-9 season.

Though Hearns was lower on the depth chart last season, the redshirt junior had 11 carries for 67 yards late in blowout victories. Buddy Howell’s graduation created a spot higher on the depth chart, allowing Hearns — a four-year starter in high school — to compete for more carries and opportunities.

Hearns has joined his teammates in picking up tips from running backs coach and former Detroit Lion Kevin Smith. While many of FAU’s other running backs rely on their speed to make plays, Hearns continues to work with Smith on elusiveness and agility.

“(We’re working) on getting in and out of my cuts, working on my elusiveness and awareness as to understanding the defensive fronts,” Hearns explained. “This year would be a great year for me to show that (and) what I worked on in the offseason.”

Rising junior and 2017 Conference USA MVP Devin Singletary (American Heritage-Delray) called Hearns “amazing” and praised his teammate’s effort to earn more snaps.

“I take notes from him as far as the way he works,” said Singletary, whose Stallions played Hearns’ Panthers in high school. “He never takes any days off, on or off the field.”

Defense vs. offense: Lane Kiffin and the Owls ended practice with an interesting personnel change, as Singletary played linebacker and safety Jalen Young (Seminole Ridge) took snaps at quarterback in a five-on-five showdown. Known more for his speed and ability to score touchdowns, Singletary showed impressive strength with a hard hit on safety James Pierre.

“I played (defense) growing up since Little League, so it was fun to get back on defense,” said Singletary. “I kinda miss it. … I probably surprised a few people.”

When Kiffin and coaches looked for a quarterback, there was no hesitation in Young’s mind that he would be the man for the job. Young played quarterback for the Hawks in high school and enjoyed his brief return to the position.

“Just to play it for one play, it was awesome,” Young said, “I had a great time.”