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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Captain obviously: Accolade-averse Heeney clear star, say Jayhawks

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks' 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech on a walk-off fieldgoal from kicker Matthew Wyman, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks' 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech on a walk-off fieldgoal from kicker Matthew Wyman, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

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Forget the impressive statistics, relentless playing style, superhero website and preseason accolades.

Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney isn’t buying any of it.

Heeney, a senior from Hutchinson who recently was voted preseason all-Big 12 and has been the heartbeat of the KU defense for the past two seasons, does not need to hear or believe that he is one of the best players in the conference or the best on his team.

Even suggesting such things puts Heeney in the kind of mood that opposing players hate to see.

“I wouldn’t consider myself the best player on our defense,” he said last month at Big 12 media days in Dallas. “I would just consider myself another piece of the defense that has to be there for us to be good.

“If you consider me the best player, you’re leaving out guys like Dexter McDonald, JaCorey Shepherd, all these other great playmakers on our team.”

Heeney’s coaches and teammates are happy to acknowledge his place as the Jayhawks’ top defender. And not to boost his ego or keep the captain happy. They believe it’s true and often lament the fact that the team’s recent struggles — 4-20 during Heeney’s two years as a starter — might have overshadowed the middle linebacker’s production, which ranks among the best in the Big 12 during his career.

“I think that Ben is probably one of the more under-appreciated defensive players, if not players, in this league,” KU coach Charlie Weis said. “Over the last couple of years, other than the couple of games where he was banged up, he was as good as just about any player playing on defense in our league.”

Weis, who has seen dozens of elite-level linebackers during his career, said Heeney reminded him of former Miami Dolphins great Zach Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowler who was named to the NFL’s all-decade team (2000s).

“I don’t think anyone we play against doesn’t think Ben Heeney is a front-line player,” Weis said. “I’m certainly a big fan.”

Finding a suitable comparison to Heeney was more difficult for KU safety Cassius Sendish, who has been a teammate of Heeney’s for just over a year and still marvels at the way he operates.

“I’ve never played with a linebacker like Heeney,” Sendish said. “He’s sideline-to-sideline, 110 percent every play.”

Sendish admitted he didn’t know what drove Heeney to play with such passion. He had an easier time explaining Heeney’s indifference to the praise tossed his way.

“I think he realizes that the accolades aren’t gonna get us where we want to go,” Sendish said. “He understands that if he keeps his play up and brings everybody’s play up around him, then we can do exactly what we want to do.”

In broad terms, that’s the unthinkable. Heeney and his senior teammates desperately want to cap their careers with a trip to a bowl game. In more immediate terms, though, what drives Heeney is rather simple.

“You either get better or you get worse,” he said. “If I stop trying to get better, then what’s the rest of the team gonna do? I feel like I definitely have a lot more to prove this year. I mean, we went 3-9 last year.”

Comments

Jay Beakum 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks for the new ads. Now I can eat while I read.

Joe Ross 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Heeney actually does what others dream about. Talent takes him a long way, of course; but his hunger is the engine of his performance. It's been a long time since I've seen that kind of "want to" in a player. I'm no judge of NFL-caliber talent, but I think he deserves a shot.

Aaron Paisley 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I hope Heeney's total numbers aren't as good as predicted because the offense is on the field long enough to take away chances for Heeney to rack up numbers like he has the past couple of seasons.

Unfortunately, the thing that's going to hurt his draft stock some is his size. He is undersized compared to the prototypical MLB and that may knock him down a round or two in the draft. I do think the Zachary Thomas comparison is a fair one and if Heeney is half as good as Thomas at the NFL level, Heeney is going to be playing in the NFL for a long time.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Or the CFL like one of the great, but undersized LB's of all time - Willie Pless.

Brett McCabe 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Willie had a great nose for the ball. He would have been a solid LB in the NFL but just could not get a look.

I think that Ben may be a better athlete. I could see him gaining a spot on special teams and then growing from there.

Brandon Mahon 2 months, 2 weeks ago

They are now putting the new big 12 logo on the field.. Over the old one... Not even new turf or anything like that... looks like they aren't going all out

Curtis Stutz 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Guys like Ben Heeney are the reason the KU Football team deserves fan support. If Heeney is the example the defense follows, should see a lot of good tacklers out there.

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