COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, a Peachtree Ridge grad, has some advice for Buckeyes basketball star Evan Turner, who is pondering whether he'll return for his senior season.
"Enjoy. Do whatever makes you happy," said Heyward, who toyed with the idea in January of jumping into the NFL draft a year early. "If you want to be in college, be in college. But he's in a blessed situation right now. I want to be like him."
There's no word yet on whether Turner, the consensus national player of the year, will be back. One thing is certain: Heyward's decision to return buoyed a lot of spirits around the football team's haunts at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
The defense might have been a major concern had it lost Heyward, who developed into a first-rate pass rusher a year ago for the Buckeyes, who went 11-2, won their fifth straight Big Ten title and capped it with a Rose Bowl victory. As it is, he's the only starting defensive lineman back for the Buckeyes, although they have several players who saw substantial time in 2009.
Heyward, the son of the late former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward and stepson of ex-Wisconsin basketball star Cory Blackwell, downplayed his return as essential to the Buckeyes' grand plan. He said it was just as important that linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa decided to return rather than turn pro.
"I wouldn't (give) all the credit to me. We've got guys like Ross and Brian and Chimdi who all came back too," he said. "If we all didn't come back, I don't think we'd have a shot. But we all knew that we'd have a great shot of doing this and it's going to be fun."
Heyward, a soft-spoken and mild-mannered physical specimen at 6-foot-5 and 287 pounds, came to Ohio State out of Suwanee, with a lot of promise. He saw plenty of playing time early, but it wasn't until last season that he broke through as a disrupter of opposing offenses.
He had 10 tackles for minus yardage including a team-high 6 1/2 sacks. His career-best 46 tackles put him sixth on the squad.
Heyward also grew as a teammate. Co-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock raved about his maturation into a team leader.
"You know, coach (Jim) Tressel does a great job with our seniors, saying, 'When it's your time you have to step up,'" Heacock said. "Cam's done a good job of playing and working hard and doing all those things, but he realizes with all the seniors gone now it's his turn. He's got to step up and do the things that coach Tressel expects him to do."
Ohio State was fifth in the nation last season in total defense, giving up 262.3 yards per game, and scoring defense, allowing 12.5 points a game. The defense was also seventh against the run, permitting 91 yards a game.
But the Buckeyes lost tackles Doug Worthington (also a captain) and Todd Denlinger, along with the other end, Thaddeus Gibson. Heyward thought long and hard about making himself available for the draft, but thought he could benefit from another year at the college level. On top of that, he enjoys the college life.
No one is a harder worker. That is evident during Ohio State's spring drills.
"You don't want to let anyone relax on this team because you don't want to be complacent," Heyward said. "At the same time I want to make myself better. The only way I'm going to get better is if I push myself."
One reason he returned was the opportunity to be a captain. He played alongside Worthington, who was a good player and even better leader. Worthington was perhaps the No. 1 spokesman for the Buckeyes all last season, offering reasoned judgments to outsiders while reassuring his teammates when times were tough.
Heyward is certain he can be a similar leader. It's recreating the booming, window-shaking bass that came out Worthington's mouth that might be hard to duplicate.
"You had the big old Darth Vader voice going with the big loud voice," Heyward said with a laugh.