Heeney continues to develop into impressive linebacker

As a sophomore starting linebacker, Ben Heeney exceeded expectations and impressed his teammates and coaches this year. Heeney leads the Big 12 in tackles with 91 this season.

The most important part about his success is that he’s never played linebacker before.

At Hutchinson High School, Heeney served as a running back and safety. He worked hard offensively and rushed for over 2,000 yards his senior year. But he made his mark on the other side with 156 career tackles, four interceptions and 17 tackles for a loss in his three years as a safety on the varsity team.

“He’s very tenacious on defense, and I’m sure you see that now,” Hutchinson High School coach Randy Dreiling said. “He was always aggressive and a great hitter.”

Heeney is still going through the learning curve of playing linebacker in the Big 12. Even though he’s still learning, he’s managed to become one of the leaders for the Jayhawks defense.

“I’ve always been working hard and trying to play hard,” Heeney said. “It’s been an easy transition for me. I just need to get in my books and get the defense down.”

Individually, Heeney’s played well in his new position this year. He’s played well enough to grab the attention of Kansas coach Charlie Weis. Weis liked what he saw on film out of Heeney last year and is more awestruck from what he’s seen up front and in person.

“You’ve seen him all year long playing like a wild man on every play,” Weis said. “You would have seen it on special teams a year before, too, so you would’ve already seen him run down and make plays. Now we just put him in a position on the defense to do the same thing, and he’s gotten significantly better. He’s significantly better now than what he was at the beginning of the year.”

Heeney credits his success to linebackers coach DeMontie Cross. Heeney meets with Cross three times per week to receive advice and focus on what he needs to improve.

While trying to learn the position, he spent a lot of time with junior linebacker Huldon Tharp. Tharp and Heeney were roommates last year during road trips.

“He was still fresh at the position, so I tried to give him pointers because it’s obviously different from playing safety,” Tharp said. “He loves to hit, and he’s got a lot of the intangibles that I think he needs.”

After he contributed to special teams last year, Heeney is now a full-time starter as a sophomore. With the success he’s having now, it builds for the possibility of him being one of the better linebackers in the nation later in his college football career.

“He doesn’t have everything yet because he’s a young guy,” defensive coordinator Dave Campo said. “He’s got pretty good speed, and he’s tough. There are some guys who are more talented athletically, but you can’t buy the stuff he has inside.”

Heeney hasn’t focused on his individual success so much because he’s been more concerned about the team’s success. He didn’t even know he led the Big 12 in tackles until a teammate informed him about it.

But with little flaws and lots of upside, Heeney is hopeful that the program will become successful, alongside his individual skills during his time here at Kansas.

As for the long-term future, his teammates won’t be surprised if an NFL team drafts him after his time in Kansas is up.

“If he keeps going the way he is, he’s got a chance to play on Sundays,” Tharp said. “He’s got plenty of effort, and that’s a huge thing, especially at the linebacker position.”

  • Updated Nov. 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm
  • Edited by Ryan McCarthy