PITTSBURGH — College football, welcome to the Iron Age.
Craig "Ironhead" Heyward is built more like The Refrigerator than Walter Payton. North Carolina State defensive back Izel Jenkins says Heyward is "harder to tackle a freight train."
But while the 265-pound Pittsburgh junior is college football's biggest tailback, he also is one of its best.
"To me, he's the best back in America right now," said Temple Coach Bruce Arians, whose Owls played Pitt Saturday night. "You can tell just by watching him, by the enthusiasm he brings to the game, how much he loves to play."
Heyward, who gives a broad new meaning to the word tailback, gained 171 yards last year in Pitt's 19-13 loss to Temple, despite a storm that dropped two inches on rain on Pitt Stadium in less than an hour.
There is only one thing Heyward likes more than running the football -- eating. And that's what is eating at Pitt Coach Mike Gottfried these days.
Gottfried has done everything short of obtaining an injunction against the local carry-out pizza shop to get Heyward to lose weight. He has had his assistant coaches chart what Heyward eats. He even agreed to go on a diet if Heyward would; Gottfried lost 45 pounds, Heyward put on five.
Gottfried once put Heyward on an all-tuna menu. "Until he ate 22 cans in a day," the coach said.
Gottfried, who wants Heyward to weigh 235 or 240, recently had the former Passaic, N.J., prep All-American chronicle everything he ate in a day. Heyward came back with a list that "included every meat, vegetable and fruit known to man," Gottfried said.
Heyward defends his hefty build by saying the extra pounds help him absorb the pounding he takes by carrying 30 times a game. Gottfried responds by saying the Pitt offense did not include a belly series until Heyward reported in less-than-ideal shape.
"Surprisingly, for his weight, he is built very solidly and doesn't have much fat on him," Gottfried said. "But he and I have talked about football after college, and he knows he's going to have to lose the weight to play in the pros. I just wish he'd do it now."
Heyward, who has gained 1,546 yards and 30 pounds in a little more than two college seasons, earned national recognition last season by running for 254 yards on 39 carries against then No. 1-ranked Miami.
He has rushed for 251 yards and two touchdowns, caught three passes and thrown a TD pass as 16th-ranked Pitt, nationally ranked for the first time in four years, has beaten Brigham Young (27-17) and North Carolina State (34-0).
"You've heard of Air Jordan? I'm Air Iron," Heyward said after throwing for a TD against Brigham Young.