- Previously covered the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star and Oklahoma University for the Oklahoman.
PITTSBURGH — Connor Heyward walked into his mom’s room in their Atlanta home when his phone started ringing. He shielded it from his big brother, Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward, and answered the call.
Curious, Cam stood near him and tried to figure out who was on the phone with his brother, a running back-turned-tight end from Michigan State. On the nearby television, the Chicago Bears were making a sixth-round pick, so Cam thought maybe his brother was heading to the Bears.
He tried to interrupt, asking Connor who was on the phone.
“One second,” Connor said as he walked away.
But before he could inquire further, Cam’s own phone rang. It was Mike Tomlin.
“I’m like, ‘Oh snap, this fool just walked away, and he didn’t even tell me it was the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Cam said Saturday afternoon. “So this has been pretty priceless.
“My brother thought it would be funny to have a prank. But there will be plenty of times to get some hazing back.”
By selecting Connor Heyward in the sixth round with the No. 208 pick overall, the Steelers added their fourth pair of brothers to the roster, Connor and Cam joining T.J. and Derek Watt, Terrell and Trey Edmunds, and Carlos and Khalil Davis.
“I honestly think when you have your siblings around, it makes you play that much better,” Connor said. “They can push you to the limits that your teammates can push you to, and when your brother has been tough on you, the teammates can kind of look at that and be like, “OK, he’s being tough on me.”
There are currently seven sets of brothers on NFL teams. At four pairs, the Steelers have the most by a wide margin.
“We value the intangible quality,” coach Mike Tomlin said, explaining the Steelers’ slew of siblings. “When you’re doing business with one, it probably gives you an indication about the intangible quality of the other. We’re all continually trying to measure that with which we cannot. That probably is what drives us toward the brother game.
“The guys that we do business with, they’re here on their own merit and their own capabilities. In some instances, they just happen to be brothers.”
Though Connor’s big brother has been with the Steelers organization for more than a decade, Steelers coaches insisted he earned his spot on his own merit. Connor, 10 years Cam’s junior, was a standout Swiss army knife at Michigan State. In his senior season, Connor had 35 catches for 326 yards and two touchdowns. A year before, he had 65 carries for 200 rushing yards. As a pro, Connor, who’s 6-0, 229-pounds, will first be used as a tight end, position coach Alfredo Roberts said.
“lt was fortunate to have that kind of talent and bloodline that’s coming through, but with Connor, I think he kind of holds his own weight and own name,” Roberts said. “Being drafted in the NFL is a big thing. I think it’s bigger than bloodline. I think he’s being valued and selected because he can play.”
But being the younger brother of an established Steeler has it perks. Connor has been in the locker room with Cam numerous times and has a good feel for the organization, even if things will be a little different now.
“You think Kenny Pickett’s been around our facility a lot, Connor’s been right there, too,” Cam said. “If Kenny is giving the tours, Connor’s giving the detours.
“I like to think Connor’s been around and seen everything. I think it’s going to be different for him this time around. It’s one thing to be a spectator. You see what’s going on from afar, you don’t truly understand, but when you’re in the thick of things, it makes it even more monumental.”
Though Connor wasn’t born in Pittsburgh, he has a deep connection to the city. Not only was Cam drafted by the Steelers, but their dad, the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, was a fullback at Pitt before being selected by the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 1988 draft.
With a wide age difference, this is the first time the pair have played on the same team, and even though Cam will be there to guide Connor through his transition, there will still be plenty of spirited, brotherly competition.
“I was going to beat him up if he was on a different team,” Cam said. “Now I get to beat him up in practice.”
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