Connor Heyward

Michigan State / RB

Tim May
[Gary Cameron/The Associated Press]

Running back Connor Heyward has risen from capable, promising backup to one of the main cogs for the Michigan State offense headed into a game Saturday against Ohio State.

Not that Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is surprised. With LJ Scott — who was supposed to be the featured player in their ball-control offense — out off and on this season because of an unspecified leg injury, Heyward finally took advantage of his opportunity to post the team’s first 100-yard rushing game of the season a week ago in a win at Maryland.

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“He’s just coming into his own as a tailback,” Dantonio said. “He didn’t play too much of that in high school. So he’s a second-year player, he played a little bit for us last year as well.

“He’s got a foundation in terms of what to do, and I thought he had a great game (last week). He’s had a couple of moments where he’s looked to be the real deal. We need to have him continue to perform like that.”

Heyward’s brother is former Ohio State and current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward. They are the sons of Craig “Ironhead” Heyward and Charlotte Heyward, who instilled traits of courtesy, respect and hard work in their children.

“When you meet him and his family, there is something about that,” Dantonio said of the qualities that make Heyward a team player.

But Dantonio has needed Heyward to step away from the crowd the past few weeks, and he has done that. Heyward rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns — one on an 80-yard blast up the middle — to make the difference at Maryland on a windy day when both teams’ passing games were scattered.

It showed, Dantonio said, how far Heyward has come in a hurry.

“He’s a fast learner,” he said. “He played the quarterback position in high school, so he’s a great leader as well. He can do a lot of different things with the football. But he just has that persona about him, and people gravitate to him.”


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