Jeff Heuerman has the reputation for being one of the hardest-working Ohio State football players, but when downtime was thrust upon him in the spring, he made the most of the respite.
In fact, the senior tight end now recommends it.
“It was a nice little break from your body, to give you some time off,” Heuerman said as preseason camp began. “Three years of college football … all the pounding in spring ball and the season … it’s a grind. So it was nice to have a little bit of time off.”
He wouldn’t recommend foot surgery just to gain the break, though. Heuerman — who suffered a broken nose in a team tug-of-war mishap just before spring drills — was aiming to put in a stout month of March before a teammate stepped on his left foot in the first spring practice.
Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic followed. It brought anxiety about the future, with Heuerman projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. as one of the elite tight end prospects likely available for the 2015 NFL draft.
“It was a foot, it wasn’t a knee or something super serious,” Heuerman said. “So I knew immediately, no matter what it was, I had time to heal. It was March and the first game wasn’t until September (Aug. 30 vs. Navy).
“Obviously, I was a little scared because you’ve got to go through surgery going into your senior year — that’s not how you draw it up. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and it has given me a chance to reflect a lot, learn a lot, and study film a lot more than I would have if I didn’t have that injury.”
He spent several weeks moving around on a wheeled contraption that protected his left leg, but he still kept a workout schedule. He said he is in the best shape of his career.
“I feel great, 100 percent,” the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Heuerman said. “I did the conditioning test and ran faster times than I ran last year, and I had been running all last year.”
He said his body fat percentage dropped from around 8 percent last year to “something like 6.9 (percent) this year.”
He gave credit to Mickey Marotti, head of the team’s football performance department.
“Coach Mick, obviously he’s got his stuff together,” Heuerman said. “He knows how to get guys bigger, faster and stronger.”
It’s a mutual admiration society.
“The ringleader of what we want in terms of work ethic and such is Jeff Heuerman,” Marotti had said earlier this year.
Now that Heuerman is back on the run, though, coach Urban Meyer said there is no sense in pushing things early in camp.
“We’ll bring him along,” Meyer said.
Meyer has plans for Heuerman after the tight end showed glimpses of his defense-stretching capability last season, such as a 57-yard touchdown catch in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson.
“Huge,” Meyer said of the possibilities for Heuerman. “And that’s my job to see that happens. He’s a real weapon, and three years ago he wasn’t. Everyone asked me why he didn’t play more as a sophomore; he’d be the first to tell you, because he wasn’t as good.
“He’s really a good player now, and we’ve got to take advantage of that.”