Jeff Heuerman started his athletic career not as a football player but as a hockey player, but when the Naples, Fla., native moved to spend his eighth-grade year living outside Ann Arbor, Mich., he decided the sport might not be for him.
"It just changed my outlook on it, moving away and living away from my family," he said. "That just wasn't what I wanted to do for four years of high school. I have two younger brothers, and you miss out on a lot of stuff. It's your childhood. They needed me and I kind of needed them. I wanted to come back."
Ohio State is glad he made the change. Heuerman picked up the sport of football upon returning to Naples and ended up with more than 20 scholarship offers by the time he finished his junior year at Barron Collier High School, and the tight end chose Ohio State in April and enrolled in January.
He enters OSU a three-star prospect and the No. 24 player at his position, a player equally adept at going out to catch passes or staying in to block using his physical nature.
"A lot of kids, once they get 6-5, they're kind of gangly and slow and a step behind everyone else," Barron Collier head coach Mark Ivey told BSB. "They're big and they look good but they're not still a great athlete. Now they might grow back into it, they may catch back up, but he's always been fairly athletic. Now he's not just a big kid, he's a 6-5 frame that can move. He's got speed, he's got quick hands and he's got quick feet."
You'd have to think he developed some of those skills while starting out on the ice. Though Naples isn't a hotbed of hockey, the sport has grown throughout the country, and Heuerman skated with the Junior Everblades out of Naples – 30 minutes south of where the minor league Florida Everblades play in Estero, Fla.
He was good enough, in fact, that he had to move north to continue his career at the Bantam Major level, the highest in his age group. At that point, his dream was more to play for the Detroit Red Wings than it was to play major college football.
"He was a very, very good hockey player," his uncle, Mark, said.
The team he moved to Michigan to join, Detroit Compuware, is one of the top junior hockey programs in the nation. It was founded by Carolina Hurricanes owner and Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos, and the program has produced such former NHL stars as Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine as well as current players Jack Johnson and Andy Greene, among others.
"I played on one of the top programs in the country," he said. "Playing hockey in Florida, it's like beating a dead horse. You can't really do much with it. You've pretty much got to be up north or find another sport to play."
As it turned out, Heuerman eventually would do both. He spent one year living near Ann Arbor, where his father, Paul, played basketball at Michigan, and Heuerman lived with one of his teammates, Austin Watson, and his family.
Watson went on to become the No. 18 overall pick of the 2010 NHL draft by the Nashville Predators. He continues to skate with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, one of the top junior leagues in Canada, and lifted junior hockey's top trophy, the Memorial Cup, in 2009 with the Windsor Spitfires.
"He's like my brother," Heuerman said. "We're still really close. He comes down and visits me a lot."
He added he continues to stay in touch with some other former teammates, including Jared Knight, another American to go through the Compuware program who plays for London of the OHL. Knight was also drafted in 2010 by the Boston Bruins.
In Columbus, Heuerman said he attempts to stay in contact with the sport he grew up playing, attending the occasional Columbus Blue Jackets games with Michigan native and Red Wings fan Reid Fragel, a fellow tight end.
"I root against the Red Wings just to mess with him," Heuerman said. "It's fun. We have a good time."
However, there are no regrets that he made the switch to football when he did.
"It's just a different world," he said of hockey. "I didn't know if I really wanted to do that. I just kind of gave it up. I wanted to try to something different, too, so I figured I'd give football a shot and it turned out pretty well for me."
And with Heuerman's hockey background behind him, Ohio State is happy it worked out the way that it did.
"Jeff is an exceptional athlete," tight ends coach John Peterson said. "He has a lot of range, tall and strong, powerful body. He has a tremendous attitude and great work ethic."
BSB staff writer Adam Jardy contributed to this story.