Heeman missed spring and the first half of training camp because of a lower body injury suffered last year. He returned to practice late last week in a critical role as Lumpkin’s understudy.
“I’m feeling good, and I’ve been working very hard,” Heeman said during Rutgers media day. “As soon as coach Flood is ready for me, I’ll be back to help the team in any way I can.”
Heeman likely battles Applefield for Lumpkin’s spot in the offseason, and plays catchup the rest of camp after his absence on the field. Flood did not list Heeman on his Saturday night injury report, and the 6-foot-8 red-shirt freshman is back in practice.
“All I can do is listen to everything Keith says,” Heeman said. “He has a lot of starts under his belt. I’ll watch him and learn from him as much as I can this year and take all of the mental reps that I can. Any advice that he has, I’m listening.
“All I’m trying to do is help in any way I can. Whether it’s this year or next year or three years from now, my focus is doing whatever is asked of me.”
Heeman said Lumpkin, Flood and offensive line coach Mitch Browning are the reasons for improvement after he arrived as a raw basketball player 14 months ago.
“Mentally, coach Browning and coach Flood and all of the upper classmen did a great job in showing me the ropes,” Heeman said. “I’ve made a lot of adjustments on the field and in my preparation. I also think the weight program has done a great job for me. They’ve shown me how to take care of my body and be as effective as I can.
“Keith had a lot of experiences and he’s giving me advice academically and tips about school and stuff. On the field, I can’t even tell you how many hours of film I’ve watched with him.”
The Lumpkin and Heeman relationship spans beyond the gridiron where both are former basketball stars for their respective schools. Heeman was not healthy enough last offseason, but he expects a clash between former Mount Olive (N.J.) and Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep post players.
And the winner may get freshman Manny Taylor, who won a state title with Philadelphia Roman Catholic this year.
“That’s the biggest thing that’s going to happen in the offseason,” Heeman said. “Me and Keith are going to go 1-on-1, but I think I got him. I have not played Manny yet, but he’s got quick feet. First we have to decide it between me and Keith.”