For a kid that grew up in a game of cuts, bruises and hard-knock hits, it turns out what's inside a person's soul weighs heavier than what is inside a playbook.
Who knew the son of an "Iron head" would actually have a soft heart?
The 6-6 280-pound Cameron Heyward is following his father's footsteps on the gridiron. But as Heyward signed Wednesday to play football for Jim Tressel at The Ohio State University, the pigskin is a mere secondary motivating factor for the athletic defensive tackle.
"It's quite an accomplishment," he said of following his late father into the game of football, "but I never necessarily wanted to be a great football player as much as I wanted to play to the best of my ability and be the best person I could be."
His father Craig, a former fullback for the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and briefly for the Indianapolis Colts, lost a fight with brain cancer in May of last year. "Iron head," as they called him, rushed for 4,301 and 30 touchdowns in a successful NFL career.
The younger Heyward compiled 124 tackles and 16 sacks in his senior season for Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Ga. Heyward picked the Buckeyes over Florida, Georgia and LSU.
Although Heyward didn't have his father to guide him through the rest of the recruiting process over the last nine months, his mother and instilled family values made it a piece of cake in his father's absence, even if the pain never fully went away.
"It's a sigh of relief that it's over," Heyward added of his recruitment. "I didn't worry about it because I knew I would make the right choice and I did."
Much like his mother and father always preached Heyward's decision was based on how he was treated.
So when he visited Ohio State in November, he said there was little doubt in his mind where he wanted to go.
"It was family-oriented," Heyward said. "I felt good with the coaches, with the players and everything about it.
"I never knew coaches and players could care so much about each other," he added.
By the time Heyward made his official visit to Ohio State just a week ago, he had already committed to the Buckeyes. But that's not to say he wasn't touched even further.
His host for the weekend was linebacker James Laurinaitis.
"I never expected him to be so team-oriented," Heyward said. "He was nice, he was very easy to get along with and he truly seemed to care about his coaches and teammates."
Over the course of his recruitment, Heyward received no fewer than 25-30 scholarship offers from the likes of USC, Florida, LSU, Alabama and the like.
In the end, however, some coaches were pushing the wrong buttons on the soft-spoken Heyward.
"It's nothing against any of those teams – they are great programs," he said, "but I felt Ohio State was where I need to be.
"I chose Ohio State because they care about me and they didn't pressure me," he added. "I want to earn everything I get. I don't want playing time given to me, I want to earn it."
Much like his father, a standout at the University of Pittsburgh did before him Heyward wants to excel for both his personality and his work ethic.
He has high ambitions on and off the field, living in his father's shadows.
"I have a lot of accolades that I want to achieve before my career is over with," Heyward said. "I want to grow spiritually, mentally and physically. I want to be on the academic all-conference and all-American teams. I also want to win a National Championship – maybe I can't right away – who knows, but I do want to win one. Lastly, I want to be known as a guy that works as hard as anyone."
Heyward reports a 3.25 GPA and will likely major in either communications or business management at Ohio State.
Although Heyward may be glad to have National Letter of Intent signing day behind him, there are no regrets.
"It's very interesting – you really have to pay attention," he concluded of the process. "It's something I would recommend for everyone. It's not always what they say it is."
When Heyward arrives at Ohio State in the summer, much like his host Laurinaitis, he will arrive with the weight of a famous athletic father on his shoulders.
He says he will be plenty equipped to handle it. What should people expect of him?
"I'll give it all I got," he said. "I work hard and I take nothing for granted."
He may have a soft heart, but he's still the son of an iron head.
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