March 23, 2010

Heyward has more to prove

COLUMBUS, Ohio - One doesn't necessarily have to endure a season-ending loss with his team the previous year to have unfinished business.

Just ask Ohio State senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.

"I wouldn't say I was really close to leaving," Heyward said. "I have a great family here and, you know, I love these guys. I want to help them in any way possible and help them get what they want - a National Championship."

Despite the fact that Heyward had a season that would insist that he is more than ready to pursue a professional career in the NFL, the versatile defensive lineman opted to return for his senior season with the Buckeyes.

Heyward was arguably the best player on the team a year ago, and it was evident in his statistics. Heyward finished the season with 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in addition to many big plays, including his first career touchdown against Michigan in the final week of the season.

It was a season in which Heyward proved he was capable of following in his father's footsteps by having a long, productive career in the NFL. Heyward's father, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, played in the NFL for 10 seasons as a running back and was a Pro Bowl selection in 1995.

Instead, Heyward decided to turn his back on what some felt would have been an eventual first round draft selection to return to the Buckeyes. Now, Heyward hopes to be one of the leaders of this team, as he most certainly will be selected as a captain in the fall.

"It's my time to step up, so I'm going to keep trying. I've just tried to go out there and lead as much as I can. Some guys need some more push, some guys need a little less talking. I'm just trying to push them in the right direction."

The Buckeyes concluded a vigorous stretch of six strength and conditioning sessions over a week ago that started at 6 a.m., but during those times where the team was fully together for the first time, the usually soft-spoken Heyward was loud and vocal.

Heyward takes his job as a leader of this team seriously. And he made that obvious.

"It's coming with time," Heyward said when asked how his transition into a leadership role was coming. "I tried to stay back a couple of years ago but with guys you need to push them.

"I think all the seniors put it on themselves," he added. "We want to go out there and the main thing is we have to step up. It's not given to us and it is going to take everyone to be vocal and be honest with each other."

Heyward has seen his role change already. Familiar faces that once were constants with the team are now again. Now, Heyward has to fill in those roles.

"You're looked at as if you've got to lead your guys," he said. "I was used to staying in the back of the lines, being behind (Doug Worthington) and (Lawrence Wilson and all of them, but now I've got to lead these guys and push them even harder."

Heyward has been around for quite some time, so unfortunately the defensive lineman has vivid memories of some of the shortcomings the Buckeyes have had in bowl games in the recent past.

But the defensive lineman has maintained that this off-season has been more pleasurable coming off a 26-17 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

"It is good to have (the Rose Bowl) win, but it is a new season now," Heyward said. "Every game everyone is going to be hunting for us and we are going to have to step up every game."

Despite the fact the Buckeyes got over the hump with a BCS win this past season, the overall goal for Heyward and the rest of his Buckeyes is to bring home a national title.

Ohio State is once again looked at as a title contender and should begin next season in the top five in the preseason polls. Despite the preseason attention, Heyward said his main goal is to keep everyone on track heading into spring football and beyond.

"You're a senior now," he said. "You feel that entitlement of 'This is your baby and you've got to raise it.' These seniors, we come out here every day and we're trying to push every guy and we want them to go out right.

"It's a big challenge for the seniors coming up," he added. "You want to live up to that reputation. You don't want to be the first team to not get that Big Ten Championship. It is a big step you've got to take."

It may be hard to picture a season in which Heyward can get better than he was a year ago, but the defensive lineman that can play just about anywhere in the defensive trenches knows there is still more to prove.

As a team, but also individually.

"Be more consistent," Heyward answered when asked about his expectations the for this season. "You see all of these guys that have breakout years, but I want to be the guy that's known for dominating every game."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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