Heyward Happy He Came Back For 2010

Having eschewed a chance to leave Ohio State early and enter the NFL draft, Cameron Heyward made the most of his senior season. The defensive end was an Ohio State co-captain and an All-Big Ten choice on another championship team, and the Georgia native said he had no regrets about his choice to return.

Considering Cameron Heyward could be making a good chunk of change and getting ready for the final weeks of the NFL season right now, one could make a good argument that he would have been well served to leave Ohio State after last season.

Of course, that's not the way the Buckeye defensive end sees it. With the benefit of a year of hindsight, Heyward has no regrets that he passed up the NFL draft to spend his senior season in scarlet and gray.

"I think it's been fun," he said. "I think as a senior, the moments you enjoy the most are just helping out the younger guys and just the memories you've had with the younger guys and our own senior class. It's very fun.

"I wouldn't trade it for the world, and I'm happy I came back."

Jim Tressel isn't surprised that Heyward would have that opinion. Not only does the head coach know that Heyward has always professed to enjoy the college life, but Heyward also came into the season as a true senior who hadn't gone through a redshirt season.

Tressel has seen plenty of players come and go, and experience tells him that it's easier for juniors who have spent a redshirt year and already gone through four years of schooling to leave.

"He was just a fourth-year guy," Tressel said. "The guys that redshirted and then leave after four, like Santonio (Holmes) or (Anthony Gonzalez) or whoever all did that, I don't know if they missed as much as that guy that leaves after three because you barely know what you're experiencing after three years.

"That fourth year is something special and it will be memories that he'll think back to. He'll be sitting in some NFL locker room saying, ‘Man, this is a long season. Man, this isn't as much fun as college,' just like they all do. So it will be memories he'll cherish forever."

It also helped that Heyward had another banner season. Despite being the focus of a lot of opposing teams' blocking schemes, Heyward finished with 42 tackles to go with 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a tackle for a safety and a fumble recovery on the way to first-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and media.

But his biggest play of the year came against Miami (Fla.) in the second game of the year. With the Hurricanes driving early in the second half, Heyward dropped back in a zone blitz and picked off a pass by Jacory Harris near the goal line. The 6-5, 288-pounder rumbled 80 yards to set up an Ohio State score, capping a play Tressel called "extraordinary" at the time.

Perhaps just as important was the role Heyward played as a leader on the team. One of six co-captains, he helped pilot a team that won a sixth straight Big Ten title as well as a defense that ranks among the nation's best.

"His decision to come back tells you a lot about him – how much he loves the game and college football, how much he cherishes his teammates," senior safety Aaron Gant said. "He wants to help Ohio State and our seniors go as far as we could this year. He's a great player, intense. He's quiet sometimes, maybe a little shy and doesn't like to speak out in front of people, but he's done a great job of that as of late."

That was a big step for Heyward, who hasn't been the most vocal player in his tenure. Even after arriving from Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge as a four-star prospect in the class of 2007, Heyward wasn't sure about how his career at OSU would unfold.

"The first time I played (in Ohio Stadium) I was definitely nervous," he said. "I didn't know if I was going to get in. A lot of questions go through your mind."

Instead, he became a starter during his freshman season, racking up 30 tackles along with nine TFL. He bumped up to 36 tackles as a sophomore in 2008 then earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year while making 6.5 sacks.

"Now, all of those questions are answered," Heyward said. "It's been an unbelievable experience I've had here. You just want to go out on top here and not leave anything behind."

Said fellow senior and co-captain Brian Rolle, "It means a lot to have a guy like that. He's a great senior leader that we have now who thought about going into the NFL but came back and put aside making a lot of money to come back and help his team and stay in the place that he loves. It just means a lot to everybody and I'm sure everybody appreciates it as much as I do."

With only the Sugar Bowl left in a career that has included four BCS berths, Heyward will suit up one final time before moving on to professional football. However, for the player who came back when he didn't have to, he might wish he even had another year of eligibility.

"It has gone so fast," Heyward said. "You don't really get a chance to look at what you've accomplished. You appreciate everything you've put into it and everybody you've met and whoever has made an impact on your life."

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