Even with the former and future NFL players hanging around, Cameron Heyward was exactly where he wanted to be: on the field with the rest of his Buckeye teammates as they start preparations for the 2010 college football season.
"No regrets," Heyward quickly responded when asked if he had any second thoughts about staying for his senior season. "The main thing is (while) I miss my guys who were here I've got another group of guys who are ready to step up."
Heyward is the now the elder statesman on the defensive line with the departures of Doug Worthington and Thaddeus Gibson, the former of whom graduated while the latter left for the NFL a year early. The line will still have plenty of talent, but there will likely be two new starters when the Buckeyes open the 2010 season Sept. 2 against Marshall. Heyward will be joined by senior Dexter Larimore and sophomores John Simon and Nathan Williams.
But there is little doubt the focal point of the D-line will be Heyward. The son of NFL great Craig "Ironhead" Heyward elected to return for his senior season after a junior campaign in which he collected 10.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. A likely first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Heyward said he is happy with how his OSU career has gone so far but remains hungry for one missing piece.
"I still want a national championship," Heyward said.
To do that, Heyward wants to take on more of a leadership role with what will be a younger group of Silver Bullets than the 2009 version. Heyward said he wants to be "more vocal, stronger, faster" this season and hopes to be more consistent than in the past.
He also wants to be a team captain, something that seems like a virtual certainty when the team votes on subject in the fall.
"It's one of my goals," Heyward said.
Another one of Heyward's 2010 goals is to take advantage of a resurgence of interest in talented defensive linemen. One could argue that there's been no better time for a defensive lineman to get noticed. Nebraska lineman Ndamukong Suh was one of the top college football players last season, and he and Oklahoma product Gerald McCoy will not have to wait long to hear their names called April 22 during the first round of the NFL draft.
Heyward wants to be on that level in his last go around as a Buckeye.
"I want to be the best," he said. "I want to be the most dominant to ever play. (Co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Jim) Heacock and I talked about that before the beginning of the season. The main this is I'm not there right now. I want to be there by the start of the season.
"It's just going to be a growing process."
Consistency will be key if Heyward is to reach those heights.
"You look at Suh and McCoy. They just take over a game for four full quarters and more. I want to do that every game and do that all the time," Heyward said. "The next thing was staying in great shape. This team might depend on me a little bit more than last year since we don't have as much depth."