COLUMBUS — Several hundred college football players got the chance to formally audition for the pro scouts at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February.
Last month, Ohio State held a separate pro day at the Woody Hayes Center, and more than a dozen former Buckeyes had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in front of NFL brass, with many of these players improving on the times they posted in Indy.
An elbow injury suffered in the Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas prevented Ohio State's likely top pick in the upcoming draft, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, from being much more than a spectator at those two events.
But with his surgically repaired elbow well on the mend, Heyward finally had his day, and he pretty much had the big stage and the spotlight all to himself. A couple other players worked out, but it was Heyward the pros came to see last week.
"It felt great out there," Heyward said about the pro day at OSU, which he said was attended by representatives from 25 of the 32 NFL teams. "My elbow felt fine, and hopefully every coach was able to see that."
Heyward, who came out of the 2010 season projected to be a sure first-round pick in the NFL draft, had his stock move to less stable ground once the injury was revealed. He apparently damaged a ligament in his elbow in the Sugar Bowl, but he did not learn the extent of the injury until he went to Arizona in early January to take part in workouts customized to prepare him for the NFL Combine.
After surgery on Jan. 12 to repair his torn ulnar collateral ligament, Heyward had his plans to take part in the Combine shelved.
"I was pretty upset about it. I didn't realize how bad it was," Heyward said. "My elbow swelled up. I thought it was just a hyperextension ... I could probably play through it, but that wasn't best because there could be long-term damage in the future."
Heyward was a All-Big Ten first-team pick this pastseason and a four-year starter. He had 166 career tackles, 41 tackles for loss, and 16.5 sacks. He was a national semifinalist for the Lombardi Award and won the Bill Willis Trophy from Ohio State's coaches as the team's outstanding defensive player in the 2010 season.
He did not bench press during the recent pro workout, under his doctor's advice to protect his healing elbow from the stress. Heyward said he ran a 4.96 in the 40-yard dash and had a vertical leap of 35 inches.
"I'm getting better every day and rehabbing the best I can," said Heyward, who is the son of a former NFL running back, the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. His dad played for the Saints, Bears, Falcons, Rams, and Colts in an 11-year NFL career, and the younger Heyward frequently tagged along with his dad and was a regular in NFL locker rooms.
"The NFL has been a longtime dream of mine," Heyward said.
Heyward said he does not expect to travel to New York at the end of the month to attend the draft in person, but his plans have not been influenced by the on-going labor trouble between the league and the players union.
"I'm not a big glam and glitter guy," Heyward said. "I'd like to stay at home with my family. It's nothing to do with the NFL or the players union. I want to be around my family and friends who helped me accomplish so much so far. I want to share that moment with them."
The draft is April 28-30 at Radio City Music Hall.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.