Inside Heuerman Camp: Barron great, with help of brother and Buckeye pals, gives back to hometown

Denver Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman, center, with his brother Matt standing next to him, leads a post-drill rally with local youths during his football camp Thursday morning at Barron Collier High School. Jeff Heuerman is a Barron Collier graduate (his brother, too) who went on to win a national championship at Ohio State University before being drafted by Broncos in 2015. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Jeff Heuerman has gone on to bigger and better things since his days at Barron Collier High School.

Tune in to NFL Red Zone or NFL Sunday Ticket once a week during the fall, and you’ll see him playing for the Denver Broncos.

With 12 Sundays left between now and Denver’s season-opening home game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 9 (and 37 days until the Broncos begin training camp), Heuerman chose to spend a hot, steamy morning teaching 100-plus local youths the skills and basics of the game.

The first Heuerman Camp was held Thursday on the very same Barron Collier football field that Heuerman earned a scholarship to play at The Ohio State University. Serving as camp instructors alongside Heuerman and his youngest brother, Matt, were several of the Buckeyes teammates that Heuerman won a national title with back in 2014. Also helping out were Cougars coach Mark Jackson and some of his staff — which made sense given that a lot of Barron’s players from the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams participated.

“I think Coach Jackson’s doing a great job here,” said Heuerman, whose Cougars career ended five years before Jackson’s arrival with an 8-3 season in 2010. “He’s got these kids excited, he’s got them enjoying the game. You can see it. When they’re coming through the drills, you could see it on their faces. They’re having fun. They’re enjoying football, which is huge. It’s a huge part of it. To see them enjoying it, hats off to Coach Jackson and his coaching staff.”

Jeff Heuerman watches intently as a participant in his youth football camp runs through a drill Thursday morning at Barron Collier High School.  GREGG HARDY/CSI

Camp participants ranged from 8 years old to high school age. All proceeds from the camp — which cost $50 for those who pre-registered and $75 for those who signed up Thursday morning — are being donated. Participants were given a white T-shirt with Heuerman Camp spelled out in the Broncos’ orange and blue color scheme, along with Heuerman’s signature and No. 82.

Barron Collier offensive lineman Elkhanan “Elky” Tanelus was one of the many camp participants who have hopes of playing major college football, if not making it all the way to the NFL. He said he got a lot out of the three-hour camp.

“We learned new things,” said Tenelus, who just recently received an offer to play at Air Force — which joined Gardner Webb and Southern Mississippi as schools who want the Cougars’ senior-bound lineman. “(The instructors) taught us new ways to get off the blocks and everything, and the (younger) kids learned a lot too. It’s all about getting better.”

As for getting the chance to work with Heuerman and the other former Buckeyes (some of whom have also experienced life in the NFL), Tanelus said, “It helps to know that you could do it too. It makes you not quit, stay committed to your own goal.”

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the first Heuerman Camp
RELATED: Matt Heuerman swapping spikes, going from golf to football

Based on the strong turnout, Heuerman was asked if there will be more Heuerman Camps in the future.

“Good turnout like this every year? Yeah we can definitely grow this thing,” he said.

TWIST OF FATE

Heuerman Camp — heck, Jeff Heuerman’s Barron Collier, Ohio State and Denver Broncos careers — would not exist today had it not been for some good, and even bad, breaks.

Football was not Heuerman’s first love; it was hockey — so much so that as a middle schooler he moved to Ohio to live with another family in hopes of furthering his chances at a career on the ice. But realizing that kids sometimes play in the Ontario Hockey League as early as their sophomore year in high school, and knowing that he would miss his two younger brothers still in Naples, Heuerman chose to return home.

His father suggested he give football a try. Perhaps his tall, lanky frame at the time (at 6-5, 255, he’s anything but lanky now) would serve Jeff well as a quarterback. That idea didn’t last long. 

It was on the very same Cougars field — though back then Barron played on grass and not the FieldTurf it has now — during a summer camp as an eighth-grader that Heuerman made his football debut. On his very first throw, he suffered a major elbow injury that would require surgery. He said he never threw the same again.

“That was the end of the quarterback days,” Heuerman cracked.

But the pain that came with that inauspicious football debut led to a life-changing experience for Heuerman. With his elbow repaired, he played for the freshman team in ninth grade under Ken Andiorio, who is now Barron Collier’s athletic director. Heuerman said he was “thankful” to have Andiorio as his first head coach. (The bond they share was evident Thursday when Andiorio said a few words at camp’s end, then embraced Heuerman.)

When Heuerman moved up to the varsity team in 2008, it was Year 2 of Mark Ivey’s successful five-year tenure as Cougars coach. Ivey, who went 36-19 at Barron Collier, left after the 2011 season to become an assistant at his alma mater, Appalachian State.

“I owe him just about everything. I give all credit to him,” said Heuerman, who was listed as a tight end/defensive end during his sophomore season. “The way he got me ready to go to college, and the way he taught me the game … and taught me the importance of the weight room, that was all so huge in my career.

“I was fortunate to have high school coaches who knew what to do with me and where to put me. I owe them a lot of credit, too, because they could have seen me as a big, tall lanky guy who never played football and pushed (me) off to the side.”

BUCKEYE PRIDE

There were so many Buckeyes at Barron Collier on Thursday, it was almost plausible to think Urban Meyer — or, at least Brutus Buckeye — was going to walk out on the field.

Joel Hale is one of Heuerman’s former Ohio State teammates who helped out at Thursday’s camp. A native of Greenwood, Ind., Hale talked about his time inside the Horseshoe (aka Ohio Stadium) and what the rivalry with Michigan (aka That Team Up North). 

“It was everything and more,” said Hale, who took his shot at the NFL in 2016 before being cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ training camp roster. “Being from Indiana, I never really paid attention to Ohio State — it was Notre Dame or IU (Indiana University) … or Purdue, I guess. I went to Ohio State, I went to the games — and you’re so young, you don’t really see it maybe — and then you get there and it is just everything you could … I mean just crazy. The fans are the best fans in the country by far. If you go outside of that stadium on a Saturday, it’s a madhouse, and that’s probably within an easy mile radius around the stadium; there is nothing but fans.”

As for the Michigan game, Hale called it the “greatest rivalry in sport.”

Greater than Yankees-Red Sox, Celtics-Lakers, Packers-Bears, Duke-North Carolina?

“I’m sure those (other rivalry) games are awesome,” Hale said, “but I’m telling you, nothing holds deep in people’s veins than that Ohio State-Michigan game.”

Heuerman wasn’t the only NFL tight end and former Buckeye on the field Thursday. Nick Vannett of the Seattle Seahawks was on hand to help teach the local youths.

Zach Boren, who played at Ohio State from 2009-12, closed the camp with a motivational speech about commitment.

OH BROTHER!

As Elky Tanelus was being interviewed by CSI shortly after camp ended, Matt Heuerman ignited a bit of a firestorm (that is, if a firestorm can rage between two people) when he posed a question of his own to the Cougars lineman.

“What do you think about that one-on-one with me and Jeff?” asked the youngest Heuerman, a 2016 Barron grad who is resuming his football career this fall at the University of Toledo after spending two years trying to start a career in golf. “There was definitely a little pass interference there, huh?”

Matt Heuerman, who stands a hair taller than Jeff at 6-foot-6, was talking about a moment during camp when he Jeff lined up to run a pass route. (CSI was not there to witness the play.)

“He knew he had to take the easy way out,” Matt said.

When asked for his side of the “controversy,” Jeff said, “So he wanted to run a one-on-one route against me. I mean, he’s in cleats; I’m in tennis shoes, and he tries to call a PI on me because I stuck my hand in his face.”

Then, seeing his brother was well within earshot, Jeff’s voice rose as he lobbed to Matt: “They’re not calling that.”

Matt: “I’ve got video evidence if you want me to send that your way.” 

Jeff: “Whatever.”

The third Heuerman brother was not there to keep the peace. Mike, the one in the middle and also a tight end, graduated from Barron Collier in 2013. He signed to play at Notre Dame, but his career ended prematurely due to injury.

Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at editor@colliersportsinsider.com.