Heyward steps up for top-ranked Buckeyes

It's been somewhat of a surprise that Ohio State has vaulted to No. 1 in the college football polls, when experts had predicted others like USC or LSU at that spot.

And the biggest surprise for the nation's top-ranked team? Peachtree Ridge grad Cameron Heyward.

Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel said just that at his weekly press conference following Heyward's five-tackle, one-sack performance against Penn State.

It was the true freshman defensive lineman's fourth straight start for the 9-0 team.

"A guy like Cameron Heyward as a true freshman in the trenches, that's unusual," Tressel said on Tuesday. "Not that we didn't think he was very, very good and all that type of thing, but I guess that's one that jumps up at me."

Heyward is a bit surprised himself.

An anchor for Peachtree Ridge's Class AAAAA state co-champions in 2006, he prepared himself for the path faced by most high school linemen when they enter college - take a redshirt season to gain weight and strength. That's particularly the case with linemen at the nation's bigger and better programs, and Ohio State certainly qualifies for that category.

But as the season progressed, the Buckeyes were hit with an injury or two on the defensive front. That gave Heyward an opening, which he has turned into a starting gig.

"I never expected (to play as a true freshman)," Heyward said. "I was hoping for it. I just worked hard over the summer and decided I would see how it worked out."

The 6-foot-6, 282-pounder has 18 tackles (12 solos), 61⁄2 tackles for losses and 21⁄2 sacks. He was named the team's Attack Force Player of the Week for his efforts vs. Penn State, and also was the team's lone nomination for the Jack Tatum Hit of the Week. He earned that nod for a big shot on a Nittany Lion receiver last week.

His contributions are huge, taking some heat off Ohio State junior Vernon Gholston, who has a team-leading six sacks.

"Cameron needs to continue to play strong and handle a lot of duties," Tressel said. "A lot of people like to run away from (Gholston) and that means the guys on the other side get a little bit more traffic. Cameron's done an excellent job in holding up his end of the bargain. There will be a day when they're not running toward (Heyward), I'm sure. And he's going to be a darn good football player."

Heyward admitted he's not as physically strong as he'd like to be, but few true freshman enter college ready for Big 10 football. But still he's holding his own and enjoying the ride for a team with national title aspirations.

"Every time you go out there you've got to be your best," Heyward said. "In high school you only had a couple of good guys you were up against. In college everybody's big. Everybody's fast."