CAROLINA: Heck of a Pedigree
NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Oct. 22 issue of CAROLINA: The Magazine.
Right tackle Jon Heck is well aware of the experience the offensive line lost heading into the 2013 season. He appreciated the chance to work with Travis Bond, Jonathan Cooper and Brennan Williams in his redshirt freshman season. “It’s pretty rare that you’re in a room with a bunch of NFL guys like that, so I learned a lot from those guys,” he said. It is rare that three offensive lineman from the same group would be drafted the following April. But for Heck, it’s not that uncommon to be among National Football League heavyweights.
Heck’s father Andy was an All-America tackle for Notre Dame in the late 1980s who co-captained the 1988 national championship team. The Seahawks made him a first-round draft pick in 1989 and he spent 12 seasons in the professional ranks with Seattle, Chicago and Washington. A successful coaching career has followed. After three years as an assistant at the University of Virginia, he moved on to the staff of the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he coached the offensive line from 2006-2012. Andy Heck is now in his first season as the offensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs under Andy Reid.
Jon Heck is poised to follow in his dad’s footsteps. He had the unique opportunity to grow up around the game, and so the transition from high school in Jacksonville to the college game has been natural one. “I was always around NFL training camps, so I was exposed to the speed of the game at the NFL level,” he says. “Coming into college, I was kind of used to the game being faster and guys being bigger. That was a big help.”
As the son of a coach, Heck also took advantage of the NFL facilities. “I never got a chance to really hop into an actual NFL lift, but I was always around the NFL strength coaches and trainers, so that was big for me.” And while Heck would sometimes step on the practice field, he didn’t line up against Tyson Alualu, for example. “I’d occasionally get to hop in there kind of as a dummy with drills, but I never got a chance to go with the D-line,” he says.
After Jon was born in February 1994, his dad played seven more seasons in the NFL, so the boy was constantly around the game. Though Andy never forced young Jon to pick up football, his size and early exposure to the game helped pave the way. “He always told me that he knew I’d have the potential to play football, but that it would be my choice,” Jon says. “He wasn’t going to push me into anything, but when I got as big as I did (6’6 300 pounds), it became pretty obvious.”
Carolina recruited Heck out of The Bolles School in Jacksonville, and Jon says Chapel Hill felt like home. “It’s a great group of guys here,” he says. “I really enjoyed hanging out with the guys, and the team atmosphere, and obviously the great academics here.”
Now, Andy Heck follows from afar, recording the games he can’t watch live. “He’ll always point out anything he saw, tell me what he thought I did well, what I need to work on,” Jon says. While Andy is a coach by profession, he’s still a father who can leave work at the office. “Football takes up a whole lot of his time, so when he comes home, he likes to just spend the whole time with the family,” Jon says. “He’ll always talk to me about football and if I ever have a question, he’ll answer it. He’ll critique some of my film, but usually when he’s home he just wants to hang out with family.”
Though growing up around the sport helped prepare him for the size and speed of college football, Heck has had to diversify his game. The Bolles School Bulldogs ran the Wing T on offense, running the ball on nearly every down. “Coming here running spread, running tempo, zone blocking was all new to me,” Heck says. Adding new responsibilities and adjusting to the high tempo of Larry Fedora and Blake Anderson’s offense has made him more of a complete offensive lineman. “I’ve learned to be a much better pass protector now that I’ve been here,” he says. “I think playing in an offense where we’re mostly running the ball and then coming to an offense where we pass the ball a lot has definitely added to my game.”
Even as the son of a successful coach, Heck understands that every coach along the way can teach him something new, and he’s a willing learner. He’s not turning a deaf ear just because his father is an NFL assistant. “I’ve been around great coaches all my life,” he says. “In high school I was around great coaches and here Coach Kap (Carolina offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic), Coach Fedora . . . so that’s never been an issue.”
Midway through the season, Heck believes that the still-young offensive line is beginning to put things together after an understandable shaky start. “Losing a bunch of guys, there’s going to be a little bit of a drop-off there as far as chemistry and experience go. Me and Caleb (Peterson) are both young, and Landon (Turner) is young but now that we’re five games in, the chemistry’s gotten a lot better, the communication’s gotten a lot better, so as a unit we’re working a lot better.”
The Tar Heels’ 1-5 start was certainly not ideal, but Heck says the attitude of the team and coaching staff has never wavered. “That’s the thing that’s really impressed me is how positive the coaching staff has been,” he says. “We’re going to correct what we did wrong in the last game, we’re going to put it to bed and move forward and focus on the next one. The attitude has always been positive.”