Heap will take licking and keep on picking

`Golden Retriever,' Ravens' top selection, fearless over middle

April 23, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Todd Heap, the Ravens' first-round draft pick, doesn't flinch when asked to go across the middle and take a hit.

In fact, he secretly loves it. The former Arizona State tight end is part acrobat and part X-Games thrill-seeker.

Heap's biggest leap of faith came far from the gridiron. Looking 75 feet down into Arizona's Box Canyon, Heap has survived death-defying dives into Lake Gordon.

"I'm not too scared of most things," said Heap, who is also a snowboard and wakeboard enthusiast. "When you cliff-dive, your stomach turns upside down just like when they hit you. I think that's fun sometimes."

The 31st pick in the NFL draft, Heap visited the Ravens' Owings Mills complex yesterday and promised that his risk-taking days were on hold - at least off the football field.

At 6 feet 4, 248 pounds, Heap drew raves from scouts by pulling down highlight-film catches. Nicknamed "The Golden Retriever" by the Arizona State coaching staff, he set school tight end records with 115 catches for 1,685 yards and 10 touchdowns in just three seasons.

"I really feel confident that when the ball is in the air, I'm going to catch it," Heap said. "I do pride myself in making catches that other people wouldn't normally make."

Heap appeared a little glassy-eyed yesterday, a combination of a late-night, cross-country flight and some lingering shock. He said he never considered getting drafted by the Super Bowl champions.

During his pre-draft visit, Heap was told by coach Brian Billick and vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome that he probably wouldn't fall to them at the bottom of the first round. Heap chimed in by saying the Ravens should try to move up to get him.

"Who wouldn't want to be here?" Heap said. "I've been playing for ASU for the last two years and .500 ball is not my style. I want to win."

A top-20 talent in the draft, Heap fell when tight end-needy teams like the Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams addressed other areas. While on the clock, the Ravens received a call from the New England Patriots, who later said they wanted to trade up to draft Heap.

The Ravens eagerly await an up-close look at Heap when the team holds its first minicamp of the season Friday.

"For 10 years since I've retired, I've been chasing a tight end," said Newsome, a former Hall of Fame tight end with the Cleveland Browns. "I think I got pretty good one on the team right now in Shannon Sharpe. But over the 10 years I have evaluated tight ends, I think he meets all the different attributes that you look for."

Heap agonized whether to leave after his junior season, but Arizona State's coaching change and the prospects of being a high pick tipped the scales to turning pro. Still, he didn't have his father fax the required paperwork to the NFL until 18 hours before the league deadline.

"It was hard when it came down to it," Heap said. "Either side is unknown. You don't what's going to happen if you stay or if you come out. But I think it's a good decision now."

Then, there was another, more personal decision.

A devout Mormon, Heap chose to delay his mission service. It's a delicate issue considering his older brother completed a mission in Santiago, Chile, and a lot of his friends are on missions now.

"It's a personal decision," Heap said. "There's always pressure, but it came down to what was best for me."

But the timing seems right for both Heap and the Ravens. Heap needs time to develop his skills, and the Ravens need a tight end for the future.

For once, it's not a risky proposition for Heap.

"You have to be awfully fortunate to have a year where there is a talent the caliber of Todd Heap to come in a time where it seems to be layered just right for him to be exposed to a great player like Shannon Sharpe," Billick said. "It's a matter of fate."

First-rounders

The tight ends taken in the first round since 1995:

Yr Player Team Pick

'95 Kyle Brady NYJ 9th

'95 Mark Bruener Pitt. 27th

'96 Rickey Dudley Oak. 9th

'97 Tony Gonzalez K.C. 13th

'97 David LaFleur Dallas 22nd

'00 Bubba Franks G.Bay 14th

'00 Anthony Becht NYJ 27th

'01 Todd Heap Balt. 31st

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