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After breakout season at UH, Jake Herslow sets eyes on NFL

Jake Herslow hauls in a 26-yard touchdown from quarterback Clayton Tune late in the fourth quarter of the Birmingham Bowl to lift UH over Auburn. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

Jake Herslow hauls in a 26-yard touchdown from quarterback Clayton Tune late in the fourth quarter of the Birmingham Bowl to lift UH over Auburn. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

In Jake Herslow’s eyes, limitations don’t exist.

Herslow had been told countless times that he didn’t have what it takes to play football at the next level, but the 6-foot wide receiver’s belief in himself has never wavered.

In fact, he actually prefers having to prove himself rather than simply having things handed to him.

“I’d rather have it that way,” Herslow said.

Work ethic

While Herslow might not physically stand out among a crowd of athletes, he has been letting his play speak for himself since his time at Cox High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Bill Stachelski, Herslow’s high school coach, knew there was something special about Herslow when he saw the work ethic he exhibited from the moment he arrived at Cox.

“(Herslow) never lacked any confidence,” Stachelski said. “He was always just jumping up to the front of the line. He always wanted to be the first and he wanted to do every drill, master every drill.”

From breaking his collarbone after going airborne, stretching out in full extension as he dove for a ball while running a dig route in practice to never missing a lift, Herslow went all out in all he did in high school and was always looking to get just one more rep in.

“When it was raining out, (Herslow) would be the guy that comes up to you and say, ‘Let’s still go out, coach. We can get some reps in,’” Stachelski said. “He wanted to always just be on the field.”

Betting on himself

All the time Herslow spent out on the practice field and in the weight room earned him a starting spot on his high school team in all three phases of the game: a receiver on offense, cornerback on defense and various roles on special teams.

While Herslow was one of the better players at Cox, he wasn’t drawing any attention from colleges until one day he ended up on Old Dominion’s radar. Herslow spent three years with the Monarchs from 2016 to 2019 before transferring to UH.

Kermit Buggs, who was Old Dominion’s assistant defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the time, went to a Cox football game to scout a receiver on the opposing team. Little did Buggs know, Herslow would be the one that would catch his eye.

“I get to the game and I’m recruiting another individual, but Jake ends up locking him down on an interception return,” Buggs said. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ And then I watched him catch maybe two or three passes and break up a couple more passes and he was just one of the toughest people on the field.”

In a similar fashion to how he was discovered by Buggs, Herslow burst onto the scene out of nowhere and became a key piece of a 12-win UH team in 2021.

By betting on himself and making the long trek by car from Virginia to Houston, Herslow never doubted that he could fill the hole that the Cougars had at receiver even when Holgorsen thought he was crazy.

But through his relentless work ethic, hours of developing rapport with UH quarterback Clayton Tune and his pure love for the game of football, Holgorsen had no choice but to find a way to get Herslow on the field.

And it paid off big time as the walk-on receiver ended up catching the 26-yard touchdown reception that sealed UH’s Birmingham Bowl victory over Auburn.

“It’s just amazing that I had the opportunity to make that play, to be in position to make that play and win the game,” Herslow said. “It’s pretty surreal honestly.”

Future in football

Herslow plans to spend the next few months in Houston spending his time on the field and in the weight room. He’ll be working on his diet as well so he can be in the best shape possible for UH’s pro day, which will take place sometime in late March or early April.

Herslow is confident that the work he’s put in will pay off and that come August he will reach a goal he set when he was a young child — playing in the NFL.

“I just love the game,” Herslow said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old. All I’ve ever wanted to do is play professional football.”

While Herslow will not be the biggest name on any NFL team’s draft boards, he and his former coaches believe that his versatility will help him stand out and give him a shot to make a pro roster for the 2022 season.

Buggs thinks that Herslow’s value on special teams is what will help him make an NFL roster. From there, Herslow will be able to showcase the skills he brings as a receiver and the many ways he can be used as a weapon on offense.

“The biggest key for Jake is that he is one of those people that will go in on special teams and do everything he possibly can,” Buggs said. “And that’s what people are looking for on an NFL roster.”

Houston coach Dana Holgorsen would agree, as he praised the impact Herslow had on special teams all season after UH’s Birmingham Bowl victory over Auburn.

UH center Kody Russey lifts Jake Herslow into the air after what ended up being the game-winning touchdown in the Birmingham Bowl. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

UH center Kody Russey lifts Jake Herslow into the air after what ended up being the game-winning touchdown in the Birmingham Bowl. | Steven Paultanis/The Cougar

“He was one of the best special teams players I ever coached,” Holgorsen said. “He didn’t get the accolades on it because that’s what returners get, but he did all the stuff that you do to make those returns happen.”

High expectations

Herslow not only just wants to be on an NFL roster but has his eyes set on becoming the next Cooper Kupp.

Kupp made history this season by winning the NFL’s triple-crown after leading the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. And Herslow believes his skill set is similar to the Los Angeles Rams star receiver.

“I’ve studied hours of (Kupp’s) film. I try to emulate my game around his. He’s just someone I look up to,” Herslow said.“I really genuinely think that level, be that type of player for a team.”

One of Herslow’s biggest strength’s as a receiver is his ability to find green grass when his quarterback is scrambling, which is something Kupp excels at.

Herslow credits his ability to provide an outlet when his quarterback is in trouble to the hours and hours of film he studies from the perspective that he is playing quarterback.

“I learn the offense like a quarterback,” Herslow said. “I’m involved with those guys a lot so I feel like I’m a very quarterback-friendly player. By learning in terms of what they’re thinking and knowing what is going through their mind on the plays and reads and everything helped me get on the field because I can play any position and be a plug-in player forever.”

Another one of Kupp’s strengths that Herslow also exhibits is blocking.

While Kupp gets recognized for the eye-popping receiving numbers, the NFL star’s ability to spring blocks from the receiver position might be even more impressive and plays a large part in why the Rams offense has been able to light up the scoreboard.

In the same way, Herslow has been praised by Holgorsen and Buggs for his blocking ability more than any other aspect of his game.

But perhaps the most important thing Herslow and Kupp have in common is their pure love for the game of football.

Everyone who has ever played with or coached Kupp has said they have never been around a guy with as much passion for the game as Kupp displays. And those who have spent time around Herslow say the same thing about him.

“Jake is one of the best football players I’ve been around,” Holgorsen said. “He is one of the most complete football players that just loves the game more than anybody that I’ve been around.”

While Herslow has a lot of work to reach the same status as Kupp, and it might even appear like an unrealistic expectation to those on the outside, he has been proving his doubters wrong throughout his whole life and is confident he can become a name every NFL fan knows by the time his career is over.

Playing in the NFL isn’t a question in Herslow’s mind, it’s something he says, with full confidence in his voice, that will happen.

“I will play at the next level,” he said.

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