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In a brash NFL world, Ravens' Heap has relied on faith to give him structure

One of four Mormons on Ravens' roster, tight end says upbringing prepared him for high-pressure job

January 08, 2011|By Mike Klingaman | mike.klingaman@baltsun.com">href="mailto:mike.klingaman@baltsun.com">mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

"We didn't like the attitudes of the [rec league] kids or the coaches," his mom said, "and Todd's dad [Bob] didn't believe in playing so physical at that age."

Heap found other outlets for his competitive bent. Like basketball. And cliff jumping.

"We'd drive to Lake Powell and do flips off the rocks from 60 feet up," said Ken Crandall, a childhood friend. "Todd had to jump highest. "

Each July, at the Heap family reunion — a week-long gathering of the 600-strong clan in the Arizona mountains — Heap's athleticism shined. All of the kids would traipse up Green's Peak, to the lookout tower, and race to the bottom, bouncing off trees and tumbling over rocks and stumps on the 3-mile run. Covered in mud, Heap usually won.

"There were a lot of injuries on that mountain, but it sure was fun," he said.

He adhered to church doctrines, attending seminary daily for an hour before school and leading Sunday prayers from the age of 12. Once a week, children participate in a "family home evening," where they are asked to sing, recite poems or play musical instruments before parents and siblings.

Heap learned from that.

"It [public speaking] shapes your ability to deal with things in front of a crowd," he said. "You learn to focus, with stuff going on around you, and to block things out."

Heap was 'all boy'

Heap, of course, had the energy of a typical kid.

"Todd is all boy," his mother said. "He loved to hunt. He'd go out with his BB gun, shoot squirrels and bring them home, all lined up and tied to a stick."

At 11, Heap accidentally shot a neighbor girl in the leg. He'll not forget it.

"I was five rows deep in the orange groves [near home] when I heard a moped coming down the dirt path," he said. "I thought it was a buddy of mine whom I'd been feuding with. He had a moped, so I took this outlandish shot."

Heap knew he'd done wrong before Becky Walton screamed.

"I took off running, to the back of the grove. Then I threw the gun down and went back to check on her," he said. "I owned up to it, but when Becky got home and told her father, she didn't tell him who'd done it."

Thinking she'd been shot by a stranger, the girl's father grabbed his .44 and was headed for the door when she said it had been Heap.

"My dad let me have it," he said. "I got a tongue-lashing and a whuppin' for that one."

Heap, and the kids he hung with in high school, knew the rules. Weekends, they'd pile into his pickup truck, guys and girls, with quilts, a TV and portable generator, and drive into the desert to watch movies and eat popcorn under the stars. Curfew was midnight.

"Sometimes we [parents] would get a call at 11:45 saying, 'The movie has 20 minutes to go. Is it OK if we're 20 minutes late?' " said John McLelland, a family friend.

Heap was, by all accounts, a good student at Mountain View High who often chose Advanced Placement courses over easier classes.

"I can still tell you the first 18 lines of 'The Canterbury Tales' that I memorized in Middle English," he said.

"He took direction well," said Joan Snyder, who taught British literature. "Even in English class, Todd was coachable. I remember patting him on the shoulder one day, telling him, 'Good job.' I thought, good grief, it's like patting a door."

Heap led his team to consecutive state championships and earned Arizona 5A Player of the Year. His stature was such that "if he made a mistake, he would not get chewed out," said Robbie Robinson, an assistant coach at Mountain View.

"If another player was getting ripped, Todd would say, 'Coach, it was my fault.' And the coach would say, 'OK, just don't do it again.'

"He was very willing to accept responsibilities for others' mistakes, and his teammates respected that," Robinson said.

A social conscience

As it became clear he could have a future in football, Heap declined the optional two-year LDS mission for which many young men and women volunteer. He and his wife, Ashley, may serve a senior mission when their children are grown, he said.

Though Heap followed his father and grandfather to Arizona State University, his first recruiting trip there was unnerving. A couple of ASU players hosted a party for Heap and several other high school recruits that was unlike any he'd attended.

"Everyone was drinking, there were some adult films playing in the background, and there was Todd, sitting in the corner," said Scott Peters, one of the ASU players. "He didn't partake in the debauchery."

It was, Heap said, "an eye-opening experience for me. I hadn't been exposed to a lot of that stuff, for good reason."

But Heap settled in at ASU, starred in football and followed his heart, on and off the field. Routinely, friends said, he would enter a fast-food joint near campus and emerge with two breakfasts — one for himself, the other for one of the vagrants standing nearby.

"He is very aware of his surroundings," Deena Heap said.

Because of his roots, Heap has an abiding sense of civic pride. At ASU, he once blew up at his two roommates for hinting they might not vote in the 2000 presidential election.

"He just went off on us about the importance of having our voices heard," said Mason Unck, a linebacker. "We were dumbfounded. Todd is so happy-go-lucky, we thought, who is this guy chewing our ears off? But, I tell you what, every election now, we vote."

Said Heap, "We've been blessed, coming to this country with the liberties and lifestyles that we have. It's our job to keep that belief system alive."

That's the only time they remember Heap having lost his temper, those who know him say.

"I've never seen him confrontational," said Robinson, his high school coach. "You wonder how he can be successful in football. Todd is an enigma; he just doesn't fit the mold at all.

"If all pro athletes had his character, you guys wouldn't have much to write about."


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