PITTSBURGH (AP) - A quarter century after “Ironhead” became a phenomenon in Pittsburgh, a new Heyward is coming to town.
Call him Ironhead Jr.
The defending AFC-champion Steelers selected Cameron Heyward with the 31st pick of the NFL Draft. The Ohio State defensive lineman is the son of the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, the former NFL and University of Pittsburgh running back who finished fifth in the 1987 Heisman Trophy balloting.
Cameron Heyward was born in Pittsburgh, still has plenty of family in the city and spent his early years in the suburbs. In addition to his former All-American father, Heyward has an uncle who played at Pitt.
Heyward even said he has a Terrible Towel.
“I had always loved the team,” Heyward said. “I’m from there, my grandparents are from there, my mom’s from there. My gut feeling was I wanted to be in Pittsburgh. To be somewhere you want to be is an unbelievable feeling.”
The Steelers’ braintrust talked as if they were similarly as enamored with Heyward as he was with them. Although he was the record 12th defensive lineman taken in the first round, Heyward is seen as a good fit because he played in a system at Ohio State that is modeled after the Steelers’ 3-4 defense run by veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Coach Mike Tomlin said that made Heyward “an easy watch _ an enjoyable watch, if you will” on film because Heyward was already playing what just might be the one college team playing what is the closest facsimile of the Steelers’ scheme.
“It creates a great deal of comfort when looking at someone, in terms of projecting what they might be capable of doing for you,” Tomlin said.
Heyward becomes the third former Buckeyes linebacker or defensive lineman selected by Pittsburgh over its past eight draft picks.
“It really looks like stars kind of aligned for us today,” Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. “We feel real fortunate.
“Not only from a football standpoint, but this kid has impeccable character, work habits, toughness, you name it. It’s hard to find a hole with this guy. He’s a special player and a special person.”
The 6-foot-5, 288-pound Heyward was a four-year starter with the Buckeyes and an all-Big Ten honoree as a senior, when he had 48 tackles, three sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.
“We tried to adapt our defense to a Steeler-type of ball because Coach LeBeau was a well-renowned player at Ohio State,” Heyward said.
Heyward’s father was a well-renowned player at Pitt, which has shared a practice facility and building housing its offices with the Steelers for about a decade.
Craig Heyward earned the nickname “Ironhead” as much for his affable personality as for his punishing running style as a back that approached 250 pounds.
He rushed for 3,086 yards in three seasons at Pitt, including 1,791 yards in 1987 to earn consensus All-America honors.
Heyward was a 1995 Pro Bowl selection while with the Atlanta Falcons and had 4,301 rushing yards, 1,559 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns in an 11-year NFL career for five total NFL teams.
He died in 2006 at 39 from complications caused by a recurring brain tumor.
The younger Heyward became choked up when talking about his father during a conference call with the media not long after being picked. He also was shown on television as very emotional while watching the draft with his family in Georgia.
“Not having my father around through this process, it has been tough,” Heyward said. “But I know he is watching and I am going to strive everyday to make him proud of me and to live his legacy on.”
Heyward helps the Steelers infuse more youth into a position that has been aging in recent years. He becomes the second defensive lineman selected by the Steelers in the first round over the past three seasons. Pittsburgh took Ziggy Hood from Missouri at No. 32 overall after winning the Super Bowl in 2009.
Pittsburgh had one of the best run defenses in NFL history last season at 62.8 yards per game and ranked second in total defense and first in scoring defense. The reigning AFC champions have starters at all three positions on the defensive line who have made at least one Pro Bowl.
But all are 32 or older. End Aaron Smith is entering his 13th season and was limited to only six games last season due to left torn triceps injury.
“It’s going to be awesome to put (Heyward) in the mix with some other big-body young people that we’ve been able to add in the recent years,” Tomlin said. “I really feel good about adding to our lines of scrimmages with solid young people early in the draft.”
If the Steelers intended to try to nab Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey _ as many had speculated they were intent on attempting to do _ the chance of that happening ended when the Miami Dolphins took him at No. 15.
Pouncey is the twin brother of Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey, whom the Steelers took 18th overall last year. But if Mike Pouncey was a player the Steelers were willing to trade up for, the price to move up at least 16 spots apparently proved too high.
“We made a couple curiosity calls,” Colbert said when asked a general question if the team considered moving up in the draft.
But Colbert made it sound as if the Steelers were targeting Heyward all along.
“The longer it went, the better we felt about our chances, and fortunately it worked out for us staying still. Now we still got a guy we really coveted, and we have all our pick still remaining. I can’t tell you how happy we are about that.”
Heyward is the 17th Ohio State player to be a first-round pick since 2000, second-most among all colleges in that time.
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