Redshirt junior Keith Heitzman is making a big sacrifice for the betterment of the team this fall as he transitions from the defensive line to tight end. Heitzman hopes to help out anyway that he can while Jake Butt heals up and believes that the tight end group has a lot of potential even in Butt's absence. Heitzman has dropped some weight and is getting used to running routes along with a few other things he discusses.
Heitzman is coming off of a season in which he started seven games on the defensive line but now has been asked by the coaches to try his hand at something new and switch to tight end in a time of need. Heitzman says that switching to positions has been challenging at times but the coaches have had good things to say about his progress.
"It's been good. They said that I've been coming along real fast and stuff but there's still a lot more that I need to improve on," Hetizman admitted. "Weight was a big thing at first because I was like 280 or 283, but that actually came off surprisingly quick. So really right now it's the mental aspect, getting to know the plays and being able to read defensive coverages and stuff like that."
Coach Hoke has mentioned in the past that Heitzman is a better athlete than he gets credit for and that he's made the transition rather smoothly. Heitzman himself says that there are more similarities between playing the on the defensive line and tight end than you might think.
"The physicality of the position is pretty similar to D-line," Heitzman explained. "You need the same mental attitude. Firing off the ball and being in a three-point stance, so the physical aspect I'd say."
The position change for Heitzman hasn't come without challenges though. Early on he was playing with a lot of extra weight and that proved difficult at times. Obviously learning a new scheme on the other side of the ball was a big challenge as well, but Heitzman seems to be embracing it.
"Route running and the fact that the cuts that you have to make and the sharpness of the cuts [have been difficult]," Heitzman said. "When I first was doing it I was 280 and it was hard. I actually had a quad injury like the first route I ran because I wasn't used to running like that. I'd say that but I'm starting to get the hang of it."
Coach Hoke has been known to make a joke or two and when he called Heitzman into his office to propose a position switch, Heitzman thought that he was messing around. We know now that Coach Hoke was sincere in his request and Heitzman has taken it on without a complaint.
"So I went up. I had no idea," Heitzman explained. "It was actually his assistant guys that said, 'Hey, Coach Hoke needs to see you in his office', and I was like, man, this isn't going to be good. I go up and he's like, 'We're making a position change' and I was kind of bummed out because I thought he was moving me inside and so that would be another 30 pounds I'm going to have to gain. He said, 'We're moving you to tight end' and then he really didn't say anything and I thought he was messing with me because that's Coach Hoke, He continued talking and I realized he was serious. He asked me how I felt about it and with him being a defensive guy I couldn't act too excited or anything like that. Secretly I was pretty excited because I'd lose all that weight, get to run. I basically just said that I'll do whatever is best for the team and that's how it happened."