Kansas LB Ben Heeney looks to translate college success to NFL

Nov 8, 2014; Lawrence, KS; Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney (31) celebrates a missed field goal by Iowa State at Memorial Stadium. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2014; Lawrence, KS; Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney (31) celebrates a missed field goal by Iowa State at Memorial Stadium. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland are tackling machines.

Kuechly led the NFL in 2014 with 153 tackles, while Borland burst on the scene in his rookie campaign with 108 tackles to rank 27th in the league.

Kansas Jayhawks linebacker Ben Heeney, who had 127 tackles in his senior season, picked a good duo to pattern his style after, especially Kuechly.

“I like to think my game is like his,” Heeney said of the Panthers’ Pro Bowl linebacker. “I just think he’s a playmaker.”

Borland isn’t shabby, either.

“I’ve heard comparison between me and Chris Borland,” Heeney said. “I just like guys that make plays and are always around the ball. I think that’s kind of the player I am.”

Making an impact on the field, much like Kuechly and Borland do in the NFL, wasn’t a problem for Heeney in four seasons at Kansas.

The 6-foot, 231-pound Heeney totaled 335 tackles (218 solo), 4 ½ sacks, four interceptions, five passes defensed and three forced fumbles on his Jayhawk career.

He garnered numerous awards and recognition since 2012, including a first-team All-Big 12 selection and an honorable mention for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year during his senior year.

Heeney said he can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 base defense, and looks to translate his collegiate success and work ethic to the next level in the NFL.

“I think I offer a lot to a team as far as my role on defense, special teams,” Heeney said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I can do anything. I can play any of the linebacker positions. I can play anything on special teams. I’ll do anything they want me to do.”

Heeney, who hails from Hutchinson, Kan., has a good chance to hear his name called during the NFL Draft.

CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com rank Heeney as the seventh-best inside linebacker draft prospect and project him as a fifth-round pick.

Of course, not everything was easy in Lawrence, Kan., when it came to the football program despite Heeney’s success.

The Jayhawks suffered thought a dismal 9-39 record since 2011. And Heeney admitted the period was “tough” transitioning from former coach Charlie Weis to interim coach Clint Bowen.

But Heeney believes stability has finally arrived with new coach David Beaty.

“With all that change, it’s hard for your program to respond to that,” he said. “But they just got a new coach who I think will turn the program around and I think they’re in really good hands right now.”

The Kansas football team could be on the right track to better days than from when he first arrived, allowing Heeney to fully focus on Sundays.

He has no control over where he lands, but there is one team he wouldn’t mind playing for.

While Heeney said he hasn’t talked to the Chiefs since arriving for the Combine, he remains hopeful an opportunity exists to play at Arrowhead Stadium.

“It would mean everything, man,” Heeney said. “I’d be real close to home, my family lives in Kansas City. It would be awesome to be a Chief, but I’ll be happy just to make a team. I don’t care where I go.”