Senior Retrospective: Cameron Heyward

Cameron Heyward had a decorated career on the field at Ohio State, but the Georgia native did more than get after opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers in his Buckeye career. The soft-spoken player developed from a quiet youngster to a team captain, as detailed in this Senior Retrospective.

When Cameron Heyward showed up at Ohio State, the athletic 6-6, 280-pounder said the coaching staff was fine with him playing basketball during his college career in addition to football.

"They're comfortable with it," Heyward told BSB in 2007. "I just have to keep my grades up."

While that has to make some fans think of what kind of Jared Sullinger-like impact the big man could have had on Thad Matta's basketball program, the fact that Heyward was even thinking about such a feat shows just how athletic the defensive lineman was when he arrived at OSU.

Certainly, his abilities would serve him well in his Ohio State career on the gridiron. Heyward ended up a four-year starter at OSU, developing from a player who entered the lineup as a true freshman into an All-Big Ten choice.

The soft-spoken Heyward also developed from a quiet youngster into a team captain and one of the spokesmen for a sixth straight Big Ten championship team and Sugar Bowl champion.

"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."

Heyward popped up on Ohio State's radar in his recruiting class as he showed interest in the Buckeyes along with Southeastern Conference schools LSU, Florida and Georgia.

Surely some thought the Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge product would stay in the south, though many OSU fans took interest in the prospect because of his famous name as the son of former NFL running back/fan favorite Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.

With Craig having passed away in 2006 after a battle with cancer, Heyward's mother Charlotte Heyward-Blackwell became a major part of the recruiting process.

"I think she did (play a major part in the decision)," Heyward's high school coach, Blair Armstrong, said at the time. "Obviously, as parents, he respects them and he kind of make that choice. It's a good fit for him."

Though Heyward looked at those Southern schools, his choice when he announced in his high school's library Jan. 31, 2007, was for Ohio State, reportedly a school with a coaching staff his mother favored. Heyward's choice came two days after three Ohio State coaches visited Georgia to see the prospect.

After that visit, Heyward chose to end the recruiting process despite having had an official visit scheduled to Columbus the upcoming weekend. He told BSB he made the choice to join OSU's small recruiting class "just to relieve a lot of pressure and stress," after having enjoyed his unofficial visit to Ohio State for the Michigan game in 2006.

"Ohio State was just great," Heyward told "The atmosphere, campus and academics are awesome. But I think I was impressed with the coaches the most, especially coach (Jim) Tressel."

He added that he expected to play end upon arrival at Ohio State, but he surely didn't know just how much.

"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."

Those questions didn't take long to be answered. Heyward began the year as the backup to Robert Rose but moved up the starting lineup when both Lawrence Wilson and Robert Rose suffered injuries.

Heyward made his first career sack in his second game against Akron, then started the last eight games, including the BCS National Championship game vs. LSU, and made 33 tackles that first season. He added 10 TFL, second on the team, while adding 2½ sacks and a forced fumble.

"A guy like Cameron Heyward as a true freshman in the trenches, that's unusual," head coach Jim Tressel said when asked about who was surprising him that season. "Not that we didn't think he was very, very good and all that type of thing, but I guess that's one that jumps up at me, but I suppose I could look up and down the depth chart and that type of thing, but that's the first one that pops up."

Late that season, talk about Heyward playing basketball at OSU again came up, with Matta saying he wouldn't mind having the lineman on his team.

"I saw him one night at training table and we talked for a little while," he said. "They've got a lot of football left ahead of them and I will say this: I like his intensity, I like his toughness. I don't know if we've got a uniform big enough for him. My gosh, is he a horse."

Of course, Heyward never ended up joining the likes of Ricky Dudley as someone who played both sports at OSU, but he did continue to perform well in the trenches for the Buckeyes. He started every game but one in 2008 on an Ohio State defensive line that had its share of flux during the year, making 36 tackles.

He added three sacks including one during the Michigan game, which was a throwback to the first time he saw a game in Ohio Stadium.

"As I got older and I went to the Michigan-Ohio State game when it was 1 versus 2 (in 2006), I was just happy to be a part of it," he said. "I just thought they were two good teams from the same conference. But it's a lot more now."

Heyward continued his upward trek as a Buckeye as a junior in 2009, bumping up his statistics to a total of 46 tackles including 6½ sacks while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. He had a number of standout performances, including seven tackles (two TFL) vs. USC, 11 tackles and two sacks against Penn State, a fumble recovery score vs. Michigan to continue his strong play in that rivalry game and a sack while playing an excellent all-around game against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.

After the dominating performance in the win at Penn State, Heyward was brought out to talk to the media at Tressel's Tuesday press conference three days later. There, he revealed how uncomfortable the spotlight continued to make him.

"I hate talking," he said. "I just want to play. I don't really like answering all these questions. I just like playing football."

However, Heyward did say one important thing that day – that he planned to return to Ohio State for his senior season of 2010.

"I've already thought I'm coming back for next year," he said. "I want to help the team as much as I can because they've given so much to me. I think you can't even think about it during the season. You've got so much football to look forward to."

While many have made that pledge over the years, Heyward left little doubt that he planned to keep it. He confirmed as such in the days after the Rose Bowl, finally releasing a statement declaring his plan to return two days before the deadline to declare for the draft.

"I am excited about next season and am looking forward to being one of the senior leaders of our team," Heyward said. "I sat down and talked at length with my family about my situation, and they totally support my decision. I've been blessed to this point. I am just having fun being a college student."

"It means a lot to have a guy like that," classmate Brian Rolle would later say during the 2010 season. "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."

One of the first orders of business was to prepare to be a senior leader. Heyward had made no bones about his quiet nature, but in the summer of 2010 he said that with captaincy on the horizon, he would try to step things up on the vocal side.

"I wouldn't say I'm preparing myself to be the face of the team," he said. "I try to be a vocal leader sometimes – a lot more. I think the main thing I'm going to praise is hard work. I might not embrace the light, but I'm not going to shy away from it. I'm just going to try to lead my team right and do the right thing. I'm not going to do anything stupid to ruin it. I'm just going to uphold anything I can."

On the field, Heyward talked about trying to lead OSU to both national and Big Ten titles while becoming a dominating presence along the lines of former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

"I want to be better," Heyward said. "He's a great player and (Oklahoma's) Gerald McCoy was too. But the main thing I want to do is dominate. Looking back, they dominated games. I think if I do what's right, just keep working hard, I can be at that level. The main thing is I just have to take care of my work. You don't want to be just as good as someone, you want to be better. I think that's a big challenge but I'm up for it."

Heyward did see his numbers improve yet again in his senior year, finishing with a career-high 48 tackles and 13 TFL. He added 3½ sacks, recovered a fumble and posted a safety. Heyward was at his best in the Sugar Bowl win against Arkansas, making six tackles, 3½ TFL, a sack and a pair of quarterback hurries.

He was named first-team All-Big Ten at the end of the season, but tackle Dexter Larimore said Heyward's brilliance during the year was still a bit underrated.

"I think Cam is one of those guys who maybe doesn't get all the press and the hype that some of these other defensive ends get," Larimore said after the postseason contest. "If you watch the film, I would not rather have any other guy. We've watched the Iowa film and all those SEC films that Arkansas played, and honestly he's the type of guy who's going to go 100 percent every time. I think it's good for him to finally have a good game with those sacks and pressures we really haven't gotten."

Heyward's most memorable play, though, maybe have taken place only two games into the season. With Miami (Fla.) driving on OSU early in the second half of a key early-season showdown, Heyward dropped back in a zone blitz and picked off Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris.

By the time Miami tracked Heyward down, the lineman had rumbled 80 yards down the west sideline and then back toward the middle of the field.

"I'm still tired," he joked at the postgame press conference afterward.

It was that athleticism that led Ohio State to Georgia to look at the prospect in the first place. Four years after he agreed to come to Columbus for the Buckeyes, Heyward was happy to have spent the full complement of his time making such plays for the Buckeyes.

"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."

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