Heyward, Chekwa returning to Ohio State

Ohio State will be sorry to see Thad Gibson depart, but the real big loss on the defensive line would have been Cameron Heyward.

Buckeye fans can breathe easy tonight as both Heyward and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa announced they will return to Ohio State for their senior seasons. It means a defense that shut down Oregon's high-powered offense in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi will return most of its core players for a possible national title run in 2010.

Heyward's return is huge for Ohio State, as he'll anchor the defensive front next fall. As left tackle Jim Cordle told me last week, Heyward could be a top 5 pick in the 2011 draft.

“I learned a lot from seniors like Doug [Worthington] and Kurt [Coleman] and all they were able to accomplish during their senior year," Heyward said in a statement issued through Ohio State. "I would love to be a part of Buckeye tradition like that. I think the upside is very positive. I want to help our team achieve the goals of winning another Big Ten title and possibly accomplishing a national championship. If I could win some recognition, that would be great as well. I think I can be a leader for our team, and I know another season will help me become a better player."

Heyward said last week in California that he expected to return in 2010. He'll be an All-America candidate and a contender for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Chekwa, who recorded an interception and eight passes defended this fall, said he wasn't ready to leave Ohio State.

"I will graduate next fall, and I am looking forward to being a leader on what can be a very special defense for the Buckeyes," Chekwa said in a statement. "After the Rose Bowl win, we are working toward accomplishing more great things, including another Big Ten title and a run at the national championship."

Barring a surprise from safety Jermale Hines or another player, Gibson looks like Ohio State's only early entry into the draft. Coming off of a Rose Bowl championship, that's a very good thing.