Cam Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers passes along leadership like a baton

The calendar read June 14 but to Cam Heyward and his Pittsburgh Steelers defense, it may as well have read January 14.

All politics is local, right?

Tip O'Neill said that after introducing a $1 billion jobs bill in Congress that was opposed by the representative from Peoria. O'Neill won the debate and the vote after he spoke directly to Peorians about what the bill would do for them specifically.

Well, all sports is local, too.

I explained that to my daughter after she came home from an offseason soccer workout complaining about the freshmen. She couldn't believe that the longshot roster candidates didn't want to put in the work. She shook her head as if to say, "Kids these days."

So I just directed her to the video and showed her No. 97, Cameron Heyward:

The video provides just a small sample of Heyward's work ethic, but you do see the hustle and attention to detail the sixth-year vet puts into spring-time minutiae. And in the accompanying story, SCI's Jon Ledyard wrote the following:

"Heyward has developed into such a veteran leader he almost seems like another assistant coach. Heyward encourages younger players to communicate and jumps in for an extra rep when spots open up. He also talked through scheme approaches with Mitchell.

"While (Ryan) ShazierLawrence Timmons and (Will) Gay are vocal presences on the field, Heyward's the unquestioned leader of the defense."

The unquestioned leader? Looks like it to me. But Heyward scoffs at the suggestion.

At least he didn't scoff at having a conversation about leadership. I asked him to pinpoint where and when he learned to jump up and take reps in seemingly meaningless drills when those should instead be taken by undrafted rookies who are looking to please.

"I would say in high school," said Heyward. "I went to private school my first two years. When I played basketball, one of our coaches was very meticulous about details and trying to get better every day. He never had the biggest team but he always got the most out of his team. The thing he always stressed was taking advantage of every rep. If there's a rep out there, you've got to go out and get it.

"All throughout my years, in college to pros, I've had great coaches who've always instilled that as well. You understand that you're not a finished product so I'm constantly trying to get better. You never know what that rep is going to mean. I think that makes me want to be more consistent and makes me want to be a better player."

Has he taken this hustle, this hop in his practice step, further as a professional?

"I think having a coach like Mitch (John Mitchell) and being around guys like (Brett) Keisel and Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton, these guys knew that the more reps you get the better you can be. We always want to be first in line to grab some reps because who's to say on this play you won't learn something different?

"I enjoy it. I enjoy the process of getting better every day. I understand that I would rather go through hell right now in practice, work my tail off, and then when we get to the game it's easier."

Of course, when the best players are the team's hardest workers, great things happen. Look at the Steelers offense the last few years with Ben RoethlisbergerAntonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell.

It's a coach's dream when the best players set such an example. In Heyward's case, he's not only one of the best defensive players, but one of the biggest. And when your badasses are working that hard, dynasties can happen. Isn't that right, Mean Joe?

"The best way to lead is by example," Heyward said. "That means doing stuff to lead the way. You can't just sit there and talk about it. I want them to follow my examples. The best way to do that is living up to it."

Heyward looks and sounds like the unquestioned leader of the defense, but says he doesn't let the thought enter his head.

"No, because that's not what I'm really worried about. I'm worried about just being a leader and helping out. All that other stuff is just hoopla to me because I would rather be a guy who gets recognized at the end of the year at the Super Bowl rather than being called 'the unquestioned leader.' There are plenty of unquestioned leaders who haven't won a Super Bowl."

Heyward has already impacted the young lion next to him who's entering his third season with the team. Stephon Tuitt is even bigger than Heyward and the two make quite an impression during seemingly meaningless spring scrimmages.

On a play later that day, just for example, the first-team defensive ends, while working with third-teamers, joined safety Ray Vinopal in corralling wide receiver Levi Norwood 30 yards down the field.

This was June 14.

"It's become second nature," said Tuitt. "We don't notice that kind of thing until we watch film and they bring it up, because it really is second nature to us now. We've been doing it so much. Especially me going into my third year, I already know what the standard is. I know what they want. Cam's going into his sixth. He knows the standard. He knows what they want. For us it's normal, and for the new guys we're teaching them to come in and do the same thing."

Tuitt put on his Jolly Green Giant grin and added, "To have the defensive line chasing, man, you saw some plays last year when we were coming down while they were running with the ball, how important that is and how it can help out so much, particularly if our team misses a tackle."

And particularly if the other team turns the ball over. Tuitt's downfield hustle has led to two big turnovers the last two years that have turned around games against Kansas City and Cincinnati.

"I always chased the ball down but never as much in a practice setting as I did since I started coming here," Tuitt said. "I always did in game situations because I was able to do it with speed, but I never really did it when like a person's running that you don't think you'll tackle. I never did that until I came here."

It's become tradition because it's been passed down, and now it's merely the standard, the expectation.

"It's like a ripple effect doing something like that," Tuitt said. "It's good for us, good for the team."

Good for anyone paying attention. It's local.


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