Ask Darrius Heyward-Bey about Maryland’s 7-5 season. Ask him about longtime teammates Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams. Ask him how his injured calf is coming along.
Ask him anything, he insists, except his plans beyond the Terrapins’ date with Nevada (7-5) in Tuesday’s Humanitarian Bowl.
Those plans, of course, include the possibility of the wide receiver giving up his final year of eligibility. But anyone who knows precisely how Heyward-Bey’s decision will unfold is guessing right along with everyone else.
And it’s exactly how the charismatic junior wants it.
“You get asked the question all the time,” Heyward-Bey said in a wide-ranging interview last week. “The best thing I can tell them is I don’t know. And that’s the truth. They’re like, ‘C’mon, man, I’m not the media.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you want me to say?’ My mom asked me and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Nobody knows.”
What Heyward-Bey does know is there is a piece of himself the public will possess so long as he plays football. The tall, quick wideout with the winning smile and impressive work ethic is there for all to see on Saturdays, and scrutiny invariably follows.
But away from football, he is intensely private. He is careful in determining who is privy to his phone number, wary of people who would randomly call or text after receiving his digits second-hand. And while he acknowledges the NFL’s Jan. 15 early-entry deadline, he plans to constrict the decision-making process to a tight-knit circle of family and coaches.
For all of his efforts to minimize the attention he’ll receive, Heyward-Bey’s choice will be one of the most prominent subplots of Maryland’s offseason. Sure, coach Ralph Friedgen will hire new defensive and special teams coordinators, and January is a busy month for solidifying the 2009 recruiting class.
But the matter of where the Terps’ leading receiver for three years running will play next year will attract plenty of attention - much to his chagrin.
“The focus on me is not necessary,” Heyward-Bey said. “It’s not going to be that big of a story, anyways.”
‘That mystery guy’
It came as no surprise this month when Friedgen said Heyward-Bey submitted paperwork to receive a draft evaluation. It was a sensible thing to do, and part of the process Friedgen has used for past players who both stayed (E.J. Henderson and D’Qwell Jackson) and departed (Shawne Merriman and Vernon Davis).
It was no burden for Heyward-Bey; he just signed a sheet of paper and was done in five minutes.
His next NFL-related decision won’t come so quickly, and it certainly will not arrive until well after the bowl game. Heyward-Bey said he’ll rely on his mother and aunt, as well as Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin to finalize his plans.
That’s it. No teammates. No longtime friends. No hangers-on. It’s an impressive compartmentalization on Heyward-Bey’s part, one he maintained for the last three years.