COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cameron Heyward still enjoys being a kid at Ohio State.
He might be the first college football star in history to gush about new facilities and not be referring to a weight room, a players' lounge or some other addition to the detached athletic complex.
"Being on campus, all these new facilities we got are great," he said last week. "You know, the new [student] union."
You mean college football players spend time on campus, at the student union, with other, um, students?
Apparently Heyward does. And he loves it.
"Everybody always tells me you're only in college once," he said. "And I want to make the most out of it."
Of course, his desire carries over to the football field, where he'll lead the Ohio State defense as a senior this fall.
He didn't have to come back and might have been a first-round pick in April's NFL draft had he chosen to declare after the 2009 season. Heyward recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a junior, playing both defensive line positions, but his dominating performances against two of Ohio State's toughest opponents, USC and Penn State, suggested he was next-level ready.
In the end, another year at Ohio State and another year to sharpen his game brought him back to Columbus.
"Cam can be good," Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel said. "He works so hard. Great person, excellent student. He's what a college player should be all about."
Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh elevated the national profile of defensive linemen last season, earning a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Could Heyward follow suit this year?
"I haven't watched much of [Suh], heard great things about him," Tressel said. "I'd like to think Cam can be that national kind of guy."
Heyward has lofty expectations for both himself and a defensive line that loses three starters but boasts plenty of young talent.
His strength and national ability are indisputable, but he wants to improve technically this fall. He played last season at 285 pounds, down from 290, and felt better with his movement. Despite being listed at 288 pounds, he still wants to get bigger and add some muscle mass before the fall.
"You always see these D-linemen, a little bit bigger than me," he said. "I want to try to fit the prototype, except be more."
Heyward attributed his improvement last season to an enhanced preparation routine and an adjusted defensive scheme that allowed him greater flexibility. He began coming to the film room early Monday mornings to study film, and he'd maintain his focus throughout the week. Although Heyward had started his first two seasons, he "wasn't as involved [in preparation] and didn't understand it as well."
By grasping the whole defense, Heyward became more comfortable playing end or tackle. He plans to once again fill in at both spots this fall.
"Inside, you have to be a little more careful of double teams," he said, "as opposed to the outside, it's mostly a pass rush, just squeezing around the block."
No matter where Heyward lines up this fall, double teams almost certainly will greet him.
"You know it's going to happen," he said. "I've just got to be ready for it. I've got to try to fight it, and other guys have got to step up as well. I'm not going to make all the plays, but I'll make as much as I can. That's going to leave a lot of 1-on-1s for [other] guys."
Fellow veteran Dexter Larimore returns at defensive tackle, but Ohio State will lean on less proven linemen like John Simon, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel, Solomon Thomas and Melvin Fellows. The Buckeyes need more depth up front, but Tressel knows he has a linchpin in Heyward.
"He's going to be a great leader for this team," Tressel said. "Obviously, we will count on him a lot on the field. He has a good knack of helping bring other people along. He's a real inclusive guy. He knows that we lost a great deal of personnel on that defensive front.
"His performance will be crucial for us, but his leadership will be just as important."