May 31, 2012
Sting Daily –
Walking into the Edge building Thursday to the sight of Georgia Tech’s newest basketball player, I was reminded by the sight of Corey Heyward of a walk many years ago right into his Dad.
The young man is nearly a spitting image of his father – from the neck up.
Dad was a running back for the Atlanta Falcons back in the day, although he was running from the Falcons at our encounter. There was something going on with his contract, and he – being notoriously difficult to deal with and remarkably unpredictable on and off the football field – wasn’t happy about it.
I was filling in for the Falcons beat writer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during offseason workouts. Craig “Ironhead” Heyward was hard-headed in many ways, hadn’t been attending said get-togethers, and he wasn’t expected that day. Then, he just showed up . . . but not to work out. “Head” was there just to be there. It was a head scratcher.
He usually did not like the AJC writer at the time although his opinions changed daily.
I was a fresh face. So, Ironhead opened up as I encountered him outside the old facility in Suwanee. He was leaving the premises, heading to the parking lot from which I was walking. We spoke a bit. That was a coup for me in the mid-1990s.
Corey, a very late addition to Tech’s recruiting class, was something of a coup for coach Brian Gregory. He needs help at point guard. The younger Heyward was a breath of fresh air on Thursday, even though it was a tad eery because I kept seeing “Head.”
His dad once weighed 328 pounds or so while still on an NFL roster. He battled weight clause after weight clause among multiple demons. Corey stacks less than two-thirds that poundage on his 6-foot frame (Dad was 5-11).
The boy’s no battering ram, either. His football days ended about five years ago, separated just a little from his father’s lost eight-year battle with a brain tumor in 2006.
Craig and Corey shared their tops and their tips. “Head” had remarkable feet for a man his size. Corey has some quicks, too.
“I can do a lot of things, but I’m more of an Energizer Bunny,” he said. “I’m athletic, can jump pretty well. Really, my focus is on defense.”
Corey’s anti-passion chased him for a while. Football was and still is extra large in his family. His father was fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1987 as a junior at Pitt, and he played in the NFL from 1988-’98 with the Saints, Bears, Falcons, Rams and Colts.
Craig Heyward, Jr. played at Middle Tennessee State, Cameron played at Ohio State and now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Corey played the game as well.
“I played football K-8. People still look at me as a football player, and kind of question me,” said Heyward, who started summer school recently. “To really play football, you have to have it in your heart and basketball just kind of took over. That’s my true passion.”
Before his senior year of 2010-’11 at Peachtree Ridge in Suwanee, Corey committed to and eventually signed a basketball letter-of-intent to attend Morehead State. He changed his mind, however, and that didn’t agree with the folks at MSU.
The MSU coach was not inclined to release Heyward from his scholarship, which meant that if he went to another college in ’10-’11, “I couldn’t have participated in basketball activities for a year.”
Soon after his high school coach, Keith Arrington, recommended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, Heyward enrolled there in the summer of ’11 and got busy not only playing ball.
“With the military discipline and structure, I was getting up at 6 a.m., marching, getting yelled at, formations,” he recalled. “I wouldn’t say this is a breeze, but it definitely prepared me for this. There was more structure.”
With a one-course load this summer, it’s actually a little too soon to say whether Heyward is really prepared for the Tech experience, but he sounds the part. Hargrave helped him with his organizational skills, gave him a chance to improve his hoops as well, and that opened more doors.
“I was playing against other top schools like Oak Hill, Findlay Prep, and my recruiting started to pick up.”
It came down to Tech, Ole Miss and Georgia Southern. This spring, he became a Yellow Jacket.
“Top-notch academics, it’s close to home, and there’s a movement to get it back on track,” he said of the Tech men’s program. “I just felt like I needed to be a part of it, and it felt like a family.”
Rules prohibit student-athletes from moving directly from high school into the first summer school session at Tech so they’ll jump on board soon. Heyward, coming from a prep school, was not subject to that rule. “I talk to them all the time,” he said. “I already knew Chris and Rob.”
Soon enough, Heyward will begin creating memories for Tech fans. He has faint recollections of his father’s NFL days, chiefly his last season with the Colts and a rookie quarterback named Peyton. That was the year, 1998, when Ironhead’s vision became blurry. “My favorite was going out at halftime,” he said. “And the cheerleaders.”
Dad left more with his boys, and some of that is abundantly obvious in Corey.
“The head is there,” he said. “I definitely got the head.”
Corey is a pleasure to talk to, and not nearly as intimidating as his father was years ago. Ironhead was frightening. And when he was healthy and his weight was in order, he was a menace for defenders. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @ mwinkeljohn.