CONWAY, Ark. (UCA) -University of Central Arkansas linebacker Justin Heard has been reinstated to the football program after serving a three-game suspension for an NCAA violation concerning his book scholarship.
Heard can return to practice this week and will be eligible to play again on Oct. 19 when the Bears travel to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Heard did not participate against Missouri State on Sept. 21 or McNeese State on Oct. 5.
"At the beginning of the semester, Justin made a serious error in judgment with regard to his book scholarship,' said UCA head coach Clint Conque. "Upon learning of this situation, he was immediately suspended from the football team pending an investigation of this matter by our institution.
"This university takes violations of any kind extremely seriously. And upon completing the investigation, we made a recommendation to the Southland Conference and the NCAA. Both governing bodies agreed with our assessment of the situation and our penalty of a three-game suspension for the student-athlete.
"Justin has been a vital part of our football program for five years, he's a college graduate. This was a serious error in judgment. He's very remorseful. This is a learning opportunity for him, as well as the rest of our student-athletes, in football and our other 16 sports, moving forward in the future. We hope that with enhanced controls and processes in place, that we can prevent similar situations from happening again.'
Heard, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound middle linebacker from Woodland, Ala., was the Bears top returning tackler for the 2013 season and was leading the team again through three games this season. Heard has already graduated with a degree in sociology.
"Justin was very forthright throughout this situation, he has made complete restitution and has handled the entire matter in a very mature manner,' said Conque. "No one feels worse about the situation than he does.
"We welcome Justin back to practice this week and competition next week. He's an all-conference performer and a leader for our defense who will give us a positive lift the remainder of the season. We look forward to Justin being a very integral part of our team upon his return to the lineup. I know his teammates will welcome him back.
"We now consider this a closed matter. We are putting this behind us and moving forward.'
The 20th-ranked Bears, with seven regular-season games remaining, host Nebraska-Kearney at 3 p.m. Saturday at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.