On the latest episode of his Not Just Football podcast, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward had New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. as his guest. Both Heyward and Nance grew up as sons of pro athletes, as Heyward’s dad, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, played 11 NFL seasons as a running back, while Nance’s dad and namesake played 14 seasons in the NBA and has his number retired by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The two discussed growing up with famous fathers.
“Everybody puts the target on your back. Everybody wants to be the guy that says ‘Oh, I beat his kid, I’ve been able to do this.’ So you always felt that pressure, but you embrace it,” Heyward said via NFL on ESPN’s YouTube channel. “Like shoot, I’m my dad’s son but you want to play him but now you have to deal with me. So I’ve always looked at it like, I don’t care if you know who my dad is, you gotta go through me. So it’s going to be a hell of a night for you.”
While having a father as a professional athlete provides unique insight into life as a professional, it also indeed put a target on your back going through youth sports. Obviously, Heyward was aware of that and it’s something that motivated him. The mindset of needing to prove yourself regardless of who you are or where you come from is something that he carried with him to the NFL, where he’s proved himself to be one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL over the past decade.
Being the guy that everyone wants to beat also helps build toughness, both physical and mental, at a young age. That surely helped Heyward in his path to the NFL and during his NFL career. As the guy that everyone wanted to beat growing up, he’s likely been used to being the focal point of his opponents. That is something in Pittsburgh as one of the best defenders in the NFL during most of his career.
It’s a unique experience having family legacy in the NFL, but it sounds as if it’s something Heyward has loved and embraced throughout his entire athletic career. The need to prove himself outside of his family name is something that clearly motivated him and helped make him a better player. It’s led to him performing at a borderline Hall of Fame level during his NFL career. There’s no doubt he’ll keep that attitude, and hopefully the level of production matches it.