Heeney relishes Kansas spotlight, leads by example

Jori Epstein

Kansas’ Ben Heeney knows he can’t hide — not on the field, not in the locker room and not on campus. Wherever he goes, someone is always watching. 

But, the senior linebacker doesn’t mind. He knows it comes with the territory of being a team captain, the position his teammates have elected him for the last
two seasons.

“Guys are always looking to you during the game to see how I’m composed — if we’re losing or if we’re winning,” Heeney said. “There are always teammates looking at me, and I always have to keep a level head on
my shoulders.”

Heeney holds onto more than just a level head — he also holds national accolades, numerous team records and a role model status among his teammates.

“We have a lot of young guys this year and lots of seniors, so they’ll have to pick up the pieces after this year,” Heeney said. “I think they’re responding to our leadership, though.”

Heeney’s leadership is most evident in his performance on the field. The Hutchinson, Kansas product dominated in 2013, finishing the season on the All-Big 12 second team. He ranked fourth in the Big 12 with an average of 8.7 tackles per game and fifth in tackles for loss per game with 1.15. Starting all 10 of the games for which he was healthy, Heeney worked tirelessly both before and after suffering an injury. In fact, his first game back last season was in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Unfazed by having missed the previous two contests against Baylor and Oklahoma, Heeney slid effortlessly into the Jayhawk defensive line. Again, he collected a team-high
nine tackles. 

After finishing last season with a team-best 88 total stops, 11.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions, Heeney had high expectations for himself heading into 2014.

Only a few games into the season, the 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker is already exceeding them. He leads his team with 33 tackles and ranks second in tackles for loss with three for a total of four yards. And he doesn’t just pad his stats against the easy nonconference opponents; Heeney was at his best in Kansas’s 41-3 loss against Duke, in which he recorded 15 tackles.

The Jayhawks rely on Heeney. He describes his leadership as partially vocal but mostly by example and through hard work. Heeney doesn’t complain much, but the team’s production certainly isn’t at Heeney’s hoped-for level. Even after the Jayhawks bounced back from the Duke loss to beat Central Michigan 24-10 last week, Heeney says his team wasn’t satisfied. They’re looking for more wins in conference play and maybe even a shot at the postseason.

“I want my team to make it to a bowl game,” Heeney said. “We haven’t done that in a long time. That’s pretty much my only goal right now — to have our seniors experience a bowl game.”

Opening Big 12 play against Texas this week, Heeney and his teammates know a few conference upsets will be necessary in order to make a bowl game. Heeney and some of his veteran teammates recall the 2012 game against the Longhorns in Lawrence, Kansas, when the Jayhawks were on the brink of a huge victory before Case McCoy lead a game-winning touchdown drive with 12 seconds remaining. 

“We’re looking at Texas like we look at every other opponent,” Heeney said. “We have to compare well, and if we do everything, we can capitalize and win.”

Kansas will  need a team effort to pull off a shocker this weekend. But with all eyes on him, Heeney will be under added pressure to perform against Texas. But that is just how he likes it.