After lining up a job that guarantees a multimillion-dollar contract, the best benefits an employee can hope for and fame and recognition as the newest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dominant defense, it’d be easy to throw away your textbooks and forget lecture halls ever existed.
But former Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward isn’t taking the easy way out.
Even after being drafted in the first round of last month’s NFL draft, Heyward still attends classes and will graduate with a degree in education at the end of this quarter.
The motivation to finish college all comes from within. Heyward knows he wants to earn a degree and do something that has not been done before by anyone in his immediate family.
“I’m pushing myself,” Heyward said. “I want to impress my family. I’ll be the first one to graduate and that’s just a big accomplishment.”
Now that he’s been drafted, his textbooks aren’t the only books he needs to study.
Heyward was fortunate to get a playbook from his Pittsburgh coaching staff, something many draft picks weren’t able to do as a result of the NFL lockout.
He said the playbook was the first thing he asked for when he arrived in Pittsburgh on April 29.
“The playbook is like a magazine,” Heyward said. “I could read it all day, but I’ve still got to look at my textbooks.”
Reading his textbooks might not help him a great deal when he’s studying opposing offenses and which quarterback he’ll be trying to sack on Sundays, but it could end up having a bigger impact sooner than he imagined.
If the NFL and NFL Players Association don’t reach an agreement on the labor situation, delaying or canceling the season, Heyward said he will take advantage of the opportunity to complete his student-teaching duties.
Heyward would be teaching elementary aged children.
“I definitely want to do my student-teaching,” Heyward said. “I didn’t get a chance to do it, and I won’t until after my career. But if I can go into that … that’d be so much fun and that’s truly a dream of mine.”
If an agreement is reached and Heyward ends up on the field instead of in the classroom, he will get a chance to return to Pittsburgh, where he’s already been welcomed by some of the town’s biggest celebrities.
Heyward said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called him and wide receiver Hines Ward sent him a text message to congratulate him.
With offensive weapons like Roethlisberger and Ward and a defense that has allowed the fewest points in the league two of the past three seasons, Heyward sees no reason why his new team shouldn’t compete for a championship every year.
“I like to think we have the best defensive line in the NFL right now,” Heyward said. “It’s unbelievable. We should be in the Super Bowl every year.”
Roethlisberger and Ward won’t be the only ones welcoming Heyward to the Steel City — Heyward was born in Pittsburgh and said he still has a lot of family in the area.
“It’s like going back to your old stomping grounds,” he said. “I’m very grateful and I feel blessed to be in this situation. Not a lot of players get to say they’re going somewhere that they actually know a lot about.
“I get to see my extended family a little bit more. I’m a big family guy and the chance to see them a little bit more, I love it.”
Heyward said he’s “ecstatic” about being a Steeler but that it hasn’t yet hit him full force that he will be playing professional football in his hometown.
“I’m just an average kid right now,” he said. “It hasn’t really set in to me that I’m going to be a Pittsburgh Steeler yet.”
Heyward is just an average kid who stands 6-foot-5 and pushes 300 pounds, plays defensive end for one of the NFL’s elite franchises and goes to class on weekday mornings.