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How UH’s Jake Herslow went from unknown to indispensable

Jake Herslow showed up to UH in January as an unknown, but by November the receiver has established himself as one of the staples of the Cougars offense. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

Jake Herslow showed up to UH in January as an unknown, but by November the receiver has established himself as one of the staples of the Cougars offense. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

On a third-and-8, UH quarterback Clayton Tune scrambled to his left, avoiding multiple USF defenders charging full force at him, and threw what appeared to be a ball that would sail out of the back of the end zone.

Then out of nowhere, wide receiver Jake Herslow rose up above a herd of Bulls defenders, high-pointed the football and somehow got his right foot down inbounds with little room to spare in the back of the end zone to turn what seemed like a busted play into a Houston touchdown.

In many ways, this play perfectly depicted Herslow’s journey to UH in the first place — going from some unknown kid who just wanted a chance to prove himself to becoming one of the Cougars’ most trusted receivers.

Taking a risk

After spending four years, from 2016-19, at Old Dominion, Herslow wanted a chance to prove himself on a bigger stage. While Herslow received scholarship offers from several small schools in the Northeast to continue his collegiate career, he decided to take a giant risk by passing up those offers and instead just showing up on the UH campus in January.

Dana Holgorsen had no clue who Herslow was or where he came from, and quite frankly didn’t expect this 6-foot kid from Virginia to fill the massive hole the Cougars had at the receiver position.

“He just showed up. We didn’t recruit him,” Holgorsen said. “He kept coming up to me saying, ‘I hear you’re trying to recruit some other receivers to come in here. I don’t know what your problem is. I can make those plays for you if you just give me a shot.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever.’”

Many UH coaches and players thought Herslow, a senior, was just some young freshman trying to find a way to make the team. 

While no one in the UH football program seemed to know anything about him or picture him playing any kind of role in the Cougars’ offense, Herslow’s belief in himself never wavered and he came in each and every day with one goal in mind — to earn the respect of his coaches and teammates.

“I’m kind of an unproven guy. I understood that, and I bet on myself,” Herslow said. “I know my ability because of the amount of work I put in. So I know what I can do and it was just showing (Holgorsen) every day, showing the team, showing the coaches every day what I can do and how I can contribute to the team.”

Developing rapport with Tune

Over the offseason, Herslow saw that Tune was a guy who always puts in extra hours in an effort to be the best player he can possibly be.

Herslow, who has the same type of work ethic as Tune, told the UH quarterback to let him know whenever he wanted to throw and he’d be there.

“I’m always the guy that’s going to stay extra, get extra work in, the first one in and the last one to leave,” Herslow said. “And (Tune) is also that guy.”

Tune appreciated this and could immediately tell Herslow was the type of player that was all about the team and would do whatever it took to help the team get better.

“(Herslow’s) another great attitude guy,” Tune said. “He’s all about the team. He’s never going to put himself before the team. He’s another guy that comes in and works hard every day, doesn’t complain and does his job,”

The two clicked quickly and formed the type of bond that every coach desires to see between his quarterback and receivers.

They threw together five days a week over the offseason, developing more and more rapport every day.

This bond extended beyond the field, as Herslow and Tune became good friends off the field.

Even Holgorsen noticed how close-knit Tune and Herslow were becoming as the offseason progressed.

“(Herslow’s) really developed a good bond with Tune,” Holgorsen said. “Those guys are pretty tight.”

Answering the call

After fall camp, the very question of whether Herslow would even have a role in the UH offense was still prevalent, but the newest UH receiver kept on working so that he’d be ready whenever his number was called.

Early in the season, Herslow saw some action and made the most of it. He even caught a touchdown pass in the Cougars’ second game of the season against Rice.

Herslow’s confidence that he showed from day one had never wavered, and he was showing that he could fill the Cougars’ receiving gap each time he got in on the action.

As the season progressed, Herslow began to see his role in the offense increase.

Herslow always seemed to be in the right spot, finding a way to get open whenever Tune was scrambling and looking for anyone to get the ball to.

The receiver who nobody knew anything about just a few months ago was suddenly becoming one of Tune’s most reliable targets.

Nothing seemed to faze him and the success he was having came at no surprise to Herslow.

“I’m just very confident because I put the work in and I just know that I can play at this level and at the next level,” Herslow said.

‘All-around football player’

Herslow has not just impacted the Cougars in the receiving game but has been a major part of the kickoff return team’s success.

While Marcus Jones gets all the credit for his magic in the return game, the job Herslow has done springing blocks has not gone unnoticed by his head coach.

“He’s one of the better special teams players I’ve ever seen,” Holgorsen said. “Some of his backside blocking on kickoff return is the reason why we’re having success.”

From being Mr. Reliable with his hands and finding ways to get open for Tune to executing key blocks on kickoff returns, Herslow has made a bigger impact in a variety of ways for the Cougars than anyone within the UH program would have thought just six months ago.

“He is just an all-around football player,” Holgorsen said. “I’m so happy he’s on this team.”

The one regret Holgorsen says he has about Herslow is not giving him a scholarship.

But Herslow has no hard feelings about it, saying he feels respected by his teammates and coaches in the way he hoped to be when he first stepped foot on the UH campus.

While the little things Herslow does may go unnoticed by the crowd, he has received plenty of love from everyone within the UH program because of the impact he has made on this team.

“I flat out love the kid,” Holgorsen said. “The effort and toughness that he brings is something we needed with our offense. … He plays his tail off.”

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