Homegrown talent moving throughout the ranks is tough to find on the West Coast. Try and think of your favorite state, their high school stars moving on to the college within the borders and then earning acclaim as professionals, all in the same market. It is difficult to name a handful, especially within the last decade.
Dating back, Marcus Allen comes to mind, although a San Diego native, he still erupted at USC and drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders. Seattle Seahawk fans call Warren Moon their own, but even he is not a homegrown Apple state native. If John Elway became a 49er or ironically enough, a Raider, perhaps that would be a story for the ages.
As we know, history is written for a reason, and Elway wrote his chapter in excellent form.
For the fans, watching homegrown talent rise through the ranks as preps, than wear their university’s colors and finally wear the badge as ultimate competitors in the NFL within state borders is a rarity.
Drafting players from in-state colleges is not unique, but finding the trifecta within your border is a dime a dozen.
Arizona fans have that right in front of their eyes. Todd Heap has returned to the valley of the sun, and the fans already love it. With nearly 13,000 fans in Flagstaff for Arizona Cardinals training camp, the chant of “Heap” echoed through the woods.
Heap is not Jake "The Snake" Plummer or Pat Tillman, but with each catch, the former Sun Devil and Mesa Mountain View High School stud knew he was home. Smiling from ear to ear, the fans extended their arms, and vocal chords, to reciprocate.
With Kevin Kolb arriving from Philadelphia to revive the Cardinals passing game, Todd Heap will have an impact on both the passing game and ground game. But, that is nothing new with Heap.
After helping Mesa Mountain View win the first back-to-back Arizona state championships in football, he later became known as the “Golden Retriever” by Sun Devil fans.
His alias fit him very well. The combination of Heap’s blonde hair, Velcro hands and keen sense of the overall play, he shattered the previous ASU records for the tight end position. After all, Heap’s first catch was of the one-handed variety for a touchdown against the Washington Huskies.
Two seasons later, Heap was a two-time All-Pac-10 honoree and a first round draft pick with a year of eligibility remaining. Ten seasons after first suiting up with the Baltimore Ravens, the All-Pro tight end has ditched the purple and black for the red birds' sleek look.
And the colors of Heap’s home state suit him well. Perhaps, it was a match made in heaven, or simply nature coming full circle.
It is always a player’s desire to perform at the highest level in front of the greatest fans a player could know: “the homers”.
Heap had the attention of maroon and gold supporters from day one in Tempe. He was a hometown hero before he left for the east cost, and fans surely have not forgotten.
Many athletes in today’s game go for the clearest path to their NFL payday. Sometimes that includes venturing off to college campuses and football programs that seem foreign in these parts, or others tryto earn their stripes at another historic institution outside of state lines.
Either way, players want to play on the grandest of stages with the biggest spotlight shinning down on them. Todd Heap proved stardom could be achieved within city limits. Heap's style proved that it is not where you play, but how you produce.
With Heap’s return to the desert, perhaps a new generation of athletes will witness his actions both as a football player and a community member in Phoenix.