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Ben Heeney stoked to pay his dues, earn his shot at linebacker

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John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Getting drafted into the NFL is pretty special, as one might imagine. Ben Heeney was positively out of his mind excited in his first interview following his fifth round draft selection by the Raiders. And said he was caught completely off guard by the call.

"I had no idea, but I couldn't be happier," said Heeney. "So happy. No one has really been in contact with me from the Raiders, so it's kind of caught me off guard. I guess that's when the best things happen, when you don't expect them."

"Man, it's everything [I hoped for] and more. . . Just having my family and friends around me when it happened, it was so special. Everyone started crying and it's just what I've been working toward since I was in third grade and started playing football. Never in a million years did I think I would be an Oakland Raider, but I couldn't be more happy to be one."

He leaves Kansas as a three-year starter at middle linebacker and that's where he figures to line up for the Raiders. He had mixed stats last season. While he put up 127 tackles, he also led the Power 5 conferences with 16 missed tackles. But one of his detractors has never been lack of effort.

He joins a team which signed veteran middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in the offseason. As a rookie fourth rounder, Heeney will be expected to be depth at linebacker to start out which also means playing mostly on special teams.

"I really think I can play anything and be productive and be a guy that you guys can count on. More than anything, I'm ready to come in and pave my way on special teams and try to be a guy is a four[-unit] special teams starter. I think I can start on every special team right away and eventually work my way up and become a contributing factor on defense."

This eager willingness to pay his dues and earn his shot goes back to when he first came to KU having never played a down as a linebacker - a transition he described at "I just fell into it."

"I actually thought I'd be a running back in college," Heeney continued. "I grew up playing running back and also I played defense, but I would get like five touchdowns a game, four touchdowns a game. I was a very good running back, so I thought that was kind of the path I would take, but I got to college and they saw me more as just an athlete and I eventually wound up as just a linebacker, and now that's what I'm playing. I think I'm just very versatile."

From a personality perspective it's not hard to see what the Raiders saw in him. He is genuinely passionate and rearing to go. It shows in how the Overland Park Kansas native, who grew up a Chiefs fan along with the rest of his family, but all that changed in an instant when he got that phone call from the Raiders.

"Yeah, man, I was [a Chiefs fan], but I'm not anymore."