It’s not easy being the son of a former NFL player. But one Ohio State defensive lineman has handled it as well as anyone.
Craig “Ironhead” Heyward would be proud of his son.
Only, he’s not around to see what’s become of his 21-year-old. “Ironhead” played 11 seasons with five different NFL teams, but lost a seven-year battle to a recurring brain tumor in May of 2006.
Losing his father at an influential time of his life was admittedly difficult, but it didn’t stop Heyward from reaching the bar his father set.
He followed his father’s footsteps to become a relentless football player. Heyward didn’t attend Pittsburgh University like either of his parents, but he carved out his own niche as a physically-imposing football player.
Heyward went to Ohio State, where he started on the defensive line for four years and played in four consecutive BCS bowl games.
The versatile lineman made 45 career starts for one of the nation’s most well-known programs and totaled 157 tackles (34 tackles-for-loss) and 14.5 sacks.
Now the reigning first-team All-Big Ten performer enters the draft with more than one reputation to uphold.
“I hope I have pressure,” Heyward said at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. “I wouldn't have it any other way. If guys are expecting a lot out of me, so be it, because I'm a guy that's going to produce and give it all I got.”
Both Heyward’s played different sides of the ball, but approached football with the same mindset. Heyward said the connection between his father’s style as a running back and his as a defensive lineman is the use of their heads.
“I think we were both guys who loved to pound,” Heyward explained. “He's trying to pound linebackers. I'm trying to go after tackles. We have that toughness, where we always want to use our head. God gave it to us, so why don't we use it?”
Surprisingly, “Ironhead Junior” has not caught on anywhere, yet. He wants his be his own player, while paying respect to his father’s legacy.
“I don't want to live in his shadow,” Heyward explained. “He was a great player and he's always in my heart. I appreciate everything he's done. But I want to do everything by my own.
“I'm not asking anybody to give me a second look or anything just because my dad was ‘Ironhead.’”
But that doesn’t mean Heyward won’t use the genetic ability he acquired. If he had to tackle his father hypothetically, he’d envision neither backing down from the challenge.
“I'd take him on, full-head,” Heyward said. “He would lower his head too. I'm going to go right at him. I'm not going for the ankles; I'm going to take him down right away.”
Spoken like a true tough guy, Heyward would have made his father proud with the grit he displayed. It was most evident in his final collegiate game, the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
At one point in the second quarter, Heyward tried to brace himself while falling, but ended up in the bottom of a massive pile. Soon, he realized something was wrong. Heyward had torn ligaments in his left elbow.
The injury would preclude him from working out at the combine, but he ignored the pain at the time.
The opposition, however, could not look past what he inflicted on them.
Heyward saved his best performance for last, totaling 3.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack, two quarterback pressures and a pass breakup in the Buckeyes 31-26 victory.
A week removed from the win, Heyward had surgery on the elbow and has been sidelined since. His goal is to work out at his Mar. 30th Pro Day, but he’s not guaranteed to do so.
“I wish I could be competing my butt off right now, because I'm itching at this chance,” he said in Indianapolis.
Adding to his desire are questions regarding his production. Heyward’s numbers went down from 6.5 sacks in 2009 to 3.5 in 2010. And similar to Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn, Heyward was considered to be a more productive defensive lineman as a junior. He could have entered the NFL Draft a year earlier, but wanted to compete for a BCS Championship as well as finish his degree.
Those production questions don’t sit well with Heyward.
“It's no short of effort,” he explained. “I'm a guy with a very high motor and I'm going to give you all I got. You'll see all my pass-rush moves. I might not have gotten there every time, but I'm going to continue to work on my pass rush and continue to get better.”
Heyward’s versatility on the defensive line makes him attractive to all 32 clubs. He can play end and tackle in a 4-3 scheme and end in a 3-4 scheme.
But where he’s taken doesn’t matter as much as the opportunity itself.
“I'm just approaching this with the best attitude,” Heyward said. “If I go in the second round, it doesn't matter because it's been a great opportunity and not a lot of people say they can play in the NFL.”
And not many can say they’re “Ironhead’s” son either.