Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Ohio State's Cam Heyward eyes big finish
By Adam Rittenberg
NEW ORLEANS -- Cameron Heyward plays football for moments like this.
It's not as if the Ohio State standout defensive lineman slacks off for non-marquee games. But he understands what it means to play on the big stage against top competition, and he'll do so for the final time as a Buckeye on Tuesday night against Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
"It's a very big game," Heyward said. "They have a very talented offensive line [quarterback Ryan Mallett] likes to sling the ball. One of my goals is always play my best in adverse situations, and we might have some adverse situations, so I'm looking forward to the challenge and ready to get after it."
Heyward entered the season tabbed as one of the nation's top defensive linemen. While his numbers aren't eye-popping -- 42 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 1 safety -- he had an undeniable presence on a strong Ohio State defensive line.
As a junior, Heyward's hallmark was his performances in big games. He made life miserable for USC's heralded offensive line in a loss to the Trojans, recording seven tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. Two months later in Happy Valley, Heyward looked like the most dominant player on the field, recording 11 tackles, including three for loss and two sacks.
Heyward wasn't nearly as effective in Ohio State's loss to Wisconsin earlier this year, as the Badgers' offensive line imposed their will. He made a bigger impact in Ohio State's defense-driven win at Iowa, recording two tackles for loss, a sack and a quarterback hurry.
The future NFL lineman sets his sights on another pro prospect in Mallett on Tuesday night.
"You always want to play against the best, and he's definitely one of the best quarterbacks we've played this year," Heyward said. "It's going to be tough, but you live for these situations to step up."
The setting for Heyward's final collegiate game adds to its significance. His late father, former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, played the first five of his 11 pro seasons with the Saints, where he was a fan favorite.
"It's been kind of neat seeing him here," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "People bump into him that knew his dad and maybe give him a little bit of a story about, 'I remember when ...' He knows he's got a tremendous challenge, and he will play every play the way he has for Ohio State for four years.
"And I think when he's done, he'll have an emotional reaction that he got to do that here in the city where his dad loved so much."