Cameron Heyward’s backstory probably doesn’t need to be much discussed for those who have followed the team for any amount of time. The nine-year veteran, originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round in 2011, has and had plenty of family in the area.
His father, Craig Heyward, was one of the all-time great players in the history of the Pittsburgh Panthers, a very popular player in the city even after making his career with the New Orleans Saints, and later the Atlanta Falcons.
Cameron has done everything to live up to the legacy of his father, both on and off the field, and that culminated in his being honored on Monday night as the recipient of the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year Award.
For those who were around at the time, that Heyward should end up with the Steelers felt like karmic justice. Thanks in large part to an especially deep defensive end class that year that also included J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, and Muhammed Wilkerson, the Ohio State lineman was available for Pittsburgh at 31 that year.
“Seeing ‘412’ come across the screen and knowing that [my family] were there and [the Steelers] were on the other side of that phone call, that means a lot to me. I’m just very honored to be up here”, he recalled last night, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
I think back, that night was crazy”, he said of the night he was drafted. “I’m waiting around, seeing who was going to call. We never thought [Pittsburgh] was going to call. And it’s funny how it happens. I think my dad had a lot of work upstairs going on getting this all done, but that moment will always live with me”.
‘Ironhead’ had already passed on in 2006 by that point, succumbing to brain cancer. Heyward has continued to honor his legacy, including donning his nickname on his uniform at times, for which he was fined. That he would go on to join the Steelers only seemed fitting.
“Playing for my dream school and then dream team in the NFL, I’m just very thankful to be in this position”, he would conclude in accepting his award. “Hopefully I’m around long enough to be a Lifetime Award winner”, like Bill Hillgrove.
Heyward has been named a Pro Bowler in each of the past three seasons, and twice named first-team All-Pro, including last season. He has recorded 54 sacks, 397 tackles, six forced fumbles, and 30 passes defensed over the course of his career. Outside of an injury-shortened 2016, he has posted five or more sacks in every season.