Tyler Heaton waits at the finish line of the St. George Marathon, mesmerized. He is part of a group of volunteers – big dudes, although not quite as large as the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Pine View senior – who stand at the finish line, ready to catch runners who have nothing left after pounding through the 26.2-mile course.
“The first year, I’m not going to lie, I was tearing up a bit,” Heaton said. “It really was inspiring to watch these guys – not the ones in the front, but the bigger people in the back because they are doing it to prove they can.”
Heaton wants to prove he can dominate – on both sides of the ball – as the Pine View Panthers try to return to their typical spot in the upper half of the region standings and position themselves for a deep playoff run.
“I’m excited. I know it’s going to be a good season, but I am also sad and nervous because I don’t want it to be over,” Heaton said. “I’m going to miss all the times I got to hang out with my brothers on and off the field.”
This year, he’s hoping they can hang out with them in the win column a little more. A year ago the Panthers were disappointed with their fifth-place finish in the 3AA South. It wasn’t necessarily a matter of talent or experience; the team struggled to win close games.
Case in point: In games decided by seven points or fewer, the Panthers were 1-4. As a result, they had to face powerhouse Dixie on the road in the second round of the playoffs are enduring a tough victory at Bear River the weekend before. The Flyers had just enough to beat the Panthers 28-23 and end their season.
“We didn’t finish very well,” Heaton says. “We didn’t have a lot of leaders last year step up, and I think that is going to be the difference for us this year – a lot of people have stepped up. The seniors are just natural leaders.”
Through two games, Pine View has outscored its opponents by a combined 81-10 and Heaton has wreaked havoc around the line of scrimmage. The Panthers average more than 200 yards rushing and Heaton has 1.5 sacks. Watch him in person or on film, and it’s easy to see why.
On offense, Heaton is a bruising, deceptively quick people mover. He deftly pulls from his left tackle spot, paving the way for the running backs. On the other side of the ball on the defensive line, he has a knack for shedding blockers and catching up to the ball carrier before he can make his cut.
Heaton has shed 18 pounds and moved from defensive tackle to defensive end this year, where he will have more opportunities to go after the quarterback, but when he is asked about that prospect he is quick to interject, “It’s fun trying to sack the quarterback, but there is a whole lot more to it than that. I have to make sure nobody gets outside of me on the run. Then with the quarterback I have to make sure he is contained (when he rolls out) so someone else can get the sack.”
It’s this type of outlook, irrespective of who gets credit for the team’s success that Nikki Heaton, Tyler’s mother, appreciates. She said it begins with Ray Hosner, Pine View’s coach since 2001, who has a clear set of standards for his student-athletes.
“I’m going to miss all the times I got to hang out with my brothers on and off the field.“
“One of the things we love about Ray’s program is Circle Black, which is about respect for your parents, spend 15 minutes discussing with them what happened that day. Tell your parents you love them and make sure you are doing what you are supposed to and live above the line.”
Although Heaton’s main focus is football, it isn’t his only sport. He gave wrestling a shot last year and excelled, finishing sixth in Region 9 while qualifying for the state meet. Although he didn’t place at state, he was grateful for the experience.
But will he return to the mat again after the football season is over? It’s a complicated question. Heaton, the football player, is sought after by many colleges in Utah and some elsewhere in the West. His work ethic, sturdy frame and quickness suggest great potential. If he agrees to a scholarship offer, it is unlikely he would jeopardize his football future by risking a dislocated shoulder or other type of injury during the wrestling campaign.
There is also this: “I’m an aide in a class where the teacher is the cheerleader coach, so I go in there and help the cheerleaders with stuff. When I worked with them they actually wanted me to come out and help with competitions,” Heaton says, chuckling at the suggestion that spending time with cheerleaders is a more desirable option than sweaty wrestlers. “So, my friend and I have been thinking about stunting with the cheerleaders. We can get a good scholarship because they use that a lot.”
He laughs. “It’s my senior year. I’m trying to have fun.” • HSSI