The more Ben Heeney watched the NFL Draft at his parents’ Overland Park home Saturday, the more his irritation grew.
The linebacker from Kansas University couldn’t help himself. Between the time he spent this offseason training in Florida, his involvement in the East-West Shrine Game and his trip to the NFL Scouting Combine, Heeney knew his fellow draft classmates well. With his competitive juices pumping on the biggest day of his football life, he kept seeing familiar names come off the board.
“I was starting to get pissed off,” the fiery Jayhawk related, “and I was just sitting there waiting.”
Even though four linebackers got picked ahead of him on Day 3 of the draft, Heeney finally calmed down when the Oakland Raiders chose him with the fourth pick in Round 5.
“Everything works out, everything happens for a reason,” the 2014 First-team All-Big 12 linebacker told the Journal-World. “I’m headed to the Raiders, so I’m excited.”
Huddled around the living room TV with family and friends, Heeney said the party hushed when his phone rang and an Oakland area code popped up on the screen. He answered the call and began talking with a Raiders scout as nearby his mother, Mitzi, began crying and his dad, Joe, got teary-eyed.
When Heeney hung up the call, all he could do was whisper the news: Oakland was about to draft him.
The room erupted in response. Amid the frenzy, the new member of the Raiders couldn’t even recall what the scout or Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie had told him minutes after becoming the 140th overall player selected and, as it turned out, an NFL teammate of fellow Jayhawk Dexter McDonald, whom Oakland chose with the 25th pick of Round 7.
After growing up in Hutchinson as a Kansas City fan, Heeney will head to California for the first time in his life later this week.
“I never thought I’d be an Oakland Raider,” he admitted.
Heeney had zero interest in discussing the Chiefs or any perceived slights, because this day was about his future, not any past allegiances.
“Man, it’s what I’ve been working for since I was in third grade,” Heeney said. “I finally made it. A team’s taking a chance on me, and they won’t be disappointed.”
One of the first orders of business became sending family members out to buy Raiders hats and T-shirts, but Heeney’s focus quickly shifted to his professional future. Considered undersized for an inside linebacker at 6 feet, 231 pounds, his goal is to play for Oakland’s defense in 2015. If playing on every special teams unit first gets him there, that’s fine by him.
“I’m the kind of guy who’s just gonna go in there and work my ass off,” Heeney said, “and we’ll see what happens when the season comes.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay said Heeney might fit better in Oakland as a weak-side linebacker in coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s defense. The KU product racked up 127 total tackles in his senior season and enters his first spring as a professional with confidence.
“I think I can play anywhere,” he said, “so anywhere they want me to play, I’m comfortable.”
Once things settled down, Heeney planned to research Oakland’s roster to get a better sense of how he’ll fit in. The whirlwind of the draft and the uncertainty that precedes it left him figuring things out on the fly. For example, he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll be back from the West Coast in time to participate in graduation at KU.
But Heeney can rest easy now, and heed the words he heard from some other Kansas pros last weekend at the spring game.
“Don’t worry about where you go, how late you go, how early you go,” Heeney said of the advice he picked up from Denver linebacker Steven Johnson and others. “Just wherever you’re going, get in there ready to make an impact like you always have. Just keep playing the way you play, and you’ll be fine.”
Now that the nerves of draft day have subsided, Heeney said he can toss aside that anger he felt toward teams that passed on him.
“I’m more happy to be a Raider,” he said.