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Beyond X's and O's with Connor Heyward, Michigan state te


What is your biggest motivator?

  • “My biggest motivator is my mom and my family. I just want to make them proud by doing the right things and ultimately being the person that I am because I know football doesn’t last forever. Being a man of character and being someone that my family would be proud of.”

Can you talk about your recruiting process? How does a kid from outside of Atlanta end up all the way up in East Lansing, Michigan?

  • “So, coming out of high school, I had a good bit of offers. I did not set a day to come out with my top four schools, I just committed on a random day because I do not like all that extra hype and stuff. I committed to Michigan State in December of my senior year. My top four schools were Pitt, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Florida, and ultimately, I thought Coach Dantonio had something going on special and they recruited me as an athlete compared to a lot of other schools that just wanted me to play offense or defense. Michigan State gave me the chance to showcase my abilities. Offense didn’t workout when I first got here, so they switched me to defense because I played a lot of positions on the defensive side of the ball, and he knew I could do it. I felt like it was a family atmosphere, and I did not really want to stay close to home. I didn’t want to just go to Georgia or Georgia Tech, I wanted to expand my horizon and get outside of the SEC territory.”

Are there differences in the way you play the game?

  • “The difference between playing in the South and up North is, obviously, the weather. You have to be able to play in the cold weather – I got used to it pretty fast. In high school, those first eight games are hot and you’re cramping. I think that helped me in the conditions when it was hot up here – when the kids up here thought it was hot it really wasn’t hot. I was just used to playing in the heat. I wouldn’t say there are too many major differences other than that. Michigan State is a big college program, like a lot of other schools. Obviously, I think down South, people love football a little bit more. Here, it is a basketball school and a football school, it’s not just a football school.”

What is your favorite college football memory?

  • “My favorite college football memory is beating Michigan. I’m 3-1 against them. It’s a big game up here, a big rivalry, so any chance you have to beat them is a big deal. This year, being able to beat them is my favorite memory, personally, because we were down by a good bit and didn’t hang out heads. A lot of people would say it was an upset, but I kind of expected it.”

What’s the one thing that Mel Tucker brought to your team – What is the difference between having him as your coach versus before he got there?

  • “I think Coach Tucker brought a competitive spirit. He makes everybody earn what they get and every day you have to come in with the mindset of getting better. It doesn’t matter if you’re the guy or not, he is not scared to confront you. I think that was a big thing that helped me personally and everyone else on the team. It just lifted everybody’s level of play. With a coach that is so intense like he is and pays attention to every little detail, there are no slip ups. I don’t think there are many coaches like him in the country. You see the contract he got this year, he is a players’ coach and knows how to talk to each guy individually.”

Can you tell me about what was going through your head during your position changes – how did you handle it?

  • “I honestly wanted to switch positions. I never felt like I was just a running back, I thought that I could bring more to the table. We already kind of had a talented group of running backs and I am an unselfish guy so I knew this wouldn’t just help my stock, but it would help the team, ultimately. We actually decided to do it two weeks before this season and I just took it and ran with it and tried to make the most of my opportunity. Kenneth Walker III is a wonderful player, and everyone saw the year he had, so being able to block for him and being a part of something special that he and our team did this year is amazing.”

Is there an NFL player that you try to model your game after?

  • “A lot of people say I am pretty similar to Kyle Juszczyk, number 44 for the 49ers. His versatility – being able to catch, run and block is what I try to model my game after. He is able to always keep the defense on their toes. We are bigger guys, but we are guys that can run and catch the ball. We don’t have to come out of the game, we’re able to switch personnel and adjust on the fly. My game similar to his because, obviously, the stuff on the field, but also our football IQ. Playing the h-back position isn’t easy because you have to know what the o-line is doing, what the receivers are doing, and have to know how you fit in the picture at all times.”

Obviously, there is NFL bloodline in your family. When you first started playing football, did you play because you felt like you had to, or because you really WANTED to?

  • “So, my first sport growing up was basketball. My parents never forced me or my siblings to play sports, it has always been our decision and they honestly wouldn’t have cared if we didn’t want to play sports. They were always good about making sure we were doing what we wanted to do. They had the mindset of ‘if sports make us happy, great, if it didn’t, then don’t do it.’ Watching my brothers and sister play sports just made me want to play sports, too. I loved a basketball growing up – I played until my senior year, but football is always where my heart has been, and I never wanted to give up on this dream. Everything I have going for me right now is what I’ve always wanted.”

What is the one thing that benefits you the most about growing up in an NFL household. What sets you apart from people that may not have grown up with an NFL family.

  • “First off, just knowing the work ethic you have to put in, in order to reach this goal. Once you reach the goal, that’s not just what you want to do, you have to maintain it. You have to put the work in day in and day out. What I feel like I have compared to kids a lot of kids – you know, I was blessed and fortunate to grow up in a family like I did – is just being able to see what goes on behind the scenes and learning from my dad, my brothers and sister’s mistakes. They never really made mistakes, but I was able to see things that they have had to deal with during their careers. My mom was in the agent process with both of them, so she knows how it all goes down. Being able to ask my brother questions and being able to bounce ideas off his head and learning a lot from him is really helpful. Whenever I talk to him, I am just soaking in a lot of knowledge. I am learning every day what it takes to be an NFL athlete on and off the field.”

If you could bring one teammate to the NFL with you, who would it be?

  • “It would be Kenneth Walker III. A lot of people would ask me why, and it is because he came in and I was a running back – I ended up switching positions, but he is everything you want in a teammate. He is getting all of these accolades, but he is still putting the team first. It is amazing to see a guy that is so humble with all of the accolades he has. He has pushed me to become a better person and a better player. He is just an ultimate guy that a lot of people are going to be happy to meet and happy to watch play.”

You’re stuck on a deserted island with three teammates – who are they?

  • “I’d go Kenneth Walker III again. Then probably Xavier Henderson, he is a safety. He has good leadership skills and is somebody that I can always talk to and someone that I trust. I know he will always do the right thing and have my back. I’d also say Powers Warren. He is one of my closest friends here at Michigan State – he transferred here this year, but he is a great guy and a hard worker. He comes from a family like mine. His dad is Kevin Warren, the Big 10 Commissioner. We just have a lot of things that are similar. These are all guys that I could spend a lot of time with.”