DURHAM, N.C. – With Duke’s third consecutive bowl win secured and the 2018 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl trophy proudly on display in the Yoh Football Center, the Blue Devils have turned the page to the 2019 campaign.
Throughout February, GoDuke.com will sit down with members of the program and look at how each is preparing for spring practice, which begins March 1.
For the fourth, and final, edition, GoDuke.com caught up with rising redshirt freshman linebacker Shaka Heyward. A Hoschton, Ga., native, Heyward played in four games as a true freshman in 2018, taking the field against Virginia, North Carolina, Clemson and Temple. His brother, Victor, is a member of the football program at Georgia State University while his cousin, Connor Heyward, is a member of the football program at Michigan State University.
GoDuke.com: You played in four games during the 2018 season. What did that mean for you to play in those games? How important do you think it was for your own development?
Shaka Heyward: “I feel like there are two sides to college football: the mental side and the physical side. I felt like I was pretty good on the physical side, but on the mental side, those four games definitely helped me get a grasp on the mental side of the game.”
GoDuke.com: Is there one thing that sticks out in your mind that helped your mental side of the game while playing in those four contests?
SH: “You can’t just do the same thing every time. You have to switch it up. In high school you can probably get away with doing the same thing every time because you’re so much better than everyone. In college everyone’s good. You have to adjust to what they’re doing, adjust with them, and stay on top of everything.”
GoDuke.com: You had two really experienced linebackers last year to learn from. How did Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys help you as a football player?
SH: “As a football player, if I had any questions, they would both cater to me every time. If I ever wanted to watch film, they would always have me watch film with them to help me understand. They would just help me go through and get mental reps while watching them. I also watched what they’re doing to help me with my thing.”
GoDuke.com: You were on the field against Temple for the 2018 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl. What did it mean to you to be playing in a bowl game that Duke won?
SH: “That was a good feeling because, at that time, through all the practices, I felt like I knew everything that we were running on the defense. It was a good experience in Louisiana for the bowl game. It was a good experience overall.”
GoDuke.com: What was the hardest part for you in going through fall camp here?
SH: “For fall camp, I would say probably knowing you weren’t going to get many plays. I knew you weren’t going to get as many plays as you were used to. I think I had to learn to just do my job. And know that doing my job is going to be good enough for the most part.”
GoDuke.com: Thinking forward to the spring season, what are you most looking forward to as that starts Friday?
SH: “I’m most looking forward to applying what I got from the mental side of the game from playing in these four games last season. Applying that to spring.”
GoDuke.com: What’s one thing that you individually want to improve upon during this spring practice segment?
SH: “I would say my footwork and my use of hands.”
GoDuke.com: How did you spend your break between the bowl game and the start of the second semester?
SH: “I hung out with the family and girlfriend, worked out a few times with my brothers. Went out with the family. Kind of chill.”
GoDuke.com: What’s a favorite memory from the 2018 season for you?
SH: “I would have to say the whole bowl experience. That was really fun for me.”
GoDuke.com: You have such a football family. What was it like growing up surrounded by football all the time?
SH: “It was fun. I mean I love football. My brother played it. I used to watch his highlights when I wasn’t playing football. It was just amazing. In the NFL my favorite player was Sean Alexander, a running back for the Seahawks, which is what I used to play way back then. I just love football.”
[Brother, Victor, is a member of the football program at Georgia State University … cousin, Johnny Ali Heyward, graduated from Duke in 1997 … cousin, Connor Heyward, is a member of the football program at Michigan State University … cousin, Cameron Heyward, played football at Ohio State University (2007-08-09-10), helped the Buckeyes to three Big Ten championships, was a first round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 NFL Draft and is currently in his eighth season with the Steelers ... cousin, Corey Heyward, lettered four seasons in basketball at Georgia Tech (2014-15-16-17) … cousin, Craig Heyward Jr., played football at Middle Tennessee State University (2006-07-08-09) … late uncle, Craig Heyward, played football at the University of Pittsburgh, was a first round selection of the New Orleans Saints in the 1988 NFL Draft, played 11 professional seasons the Saints (1988-1991), Chicago Bears (1992), Atlanta Falcons (1994-95), St. Louis Rams (1997) and Indianapolis Colts (1998), rushed for 4,301 career yards and earned a Pro Bowl selection in 1995.]
GoDuke.com: Your prediction for who will win the NBA Finals?
SH: “It’s going to be the Warriors again. What can I say? I hate to say it, but it’s going to be the Warriors.”
GoDuke.com: Did you watch the Super Bowl at all? And if so, thoughts on the Patriots getting another title?
SH: “Yeah, I watched it. I knew the Patriots were going to win it. It should’ve been the Saints but, you know, Tom Brady. I knew he was going to win.”
GoDuke.com: What is your favorite Duke Athletics game you have attended outside of football?
SH: “I would say the Duke men’s basketball game when the team played N.C. State. That was pretty wild, when we beat them after losing to them last year.”
GoDuke.com: If someone made a movie about your life, would it be a drama, a comedy, a romantic comedy, an action film, or science fiction?
SH: “I would say romantic comedy, probably. I would have to play myself.”
GoDuke.com: If you were guaranteed to be successful at something other than playing football, what would you want to do?
SH: “I would want to start my own athletic business, like you know how some people have camps where they train high school guys? Anywhere from middle school to high school guys? That’s kind of what I would want to do, train them.”