Heeney taking different approach to workouts

Ben Heeney, left, and KU men’s basketball strength coach Andrea Hudy load the bar for a weight-lifting drill during a recent training session at KU. Heeney, a likely mid-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, spent the past few months working out under Hudy’s watch.

When the image of former Kansas University linebacker Ben Heeney working out comes to mind, one might expect a lot of grunting, screaming, sweating and swearing.

And while most of that vision proved true during his days as a Jayhawk, the workouts Heeney has done in the past couple of months have been much quieter.

Heeney, an NFL combine standout in February who is projected by several analysts to be a mid-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft (April 30-May 2), has teamed with KU men’s basketball strength coach Andrea Hudy for a different type of training cycle leading up to the biggest day of his life.

When two of the best-known recent names in KU athletics train together four times a week, it only seems logical to expect that their sessions are full of ferocity. And, in terms of effort and intensity, they are. But the movements, exercises and vibe are much more serene and much less violent than those Heeney produced and became used to in the football weight room.

“He’s already really strong,” Hudy said of Heeney. “And the one thing we want to focus on is efficiency and making him a better athlete. The strength is in the details. It’s not just some shotgun approach.”

Heeney, who stands 6-feet tall, weighs 230 pounds and ripped off 19 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press at both the combine and KU’s pro day, has enjoyed the change of pace.

“It’s definitely a different kind of workout,” said Heeney, who has joined former Jayhawk JaCorey Shepherd and former Kansas City Chiefs fourth-round draft pick Donald Washington in working with Hudy during the past several weeks. “But it’s really helped me a ton. She really focuses on extensive stretching and it’s not just all about lifting and trying to go crazy.”

Added Washington, who met Hudy through his fiancee’, a former KU soccer player: “She’s amazing. She’s the best.”

Although Hudy said the pace and progression of Heeney’s workouts have moved at a comfortable pace — due, largely, to the fact that there’s no deadline for athlete or trainer to meet — the partnership produced some pretty important results on Day 1.

“The first day in, she recognized a flaw of mine that’s been bothering me for a while,” said Heeney of his natural tendency to turn his right foot out while doing just about any kind of stretching or lifting exercise.

According to Hudy, the tick is the likely product of a broken ankle Heeney suffered when he was younger. And Hudy has had to remind Heeney to fix it at least once every time the group has gotten together. Heeney said the constant reminders made such an impact that he often found himself straightening his right foot even while just standing around at home.

As for the actual workouts, they’re designed to provide each athlete with the elasticity needed to make more fluid movements. In-series plyometric jumping drills followed by simulated squats with bands lead effortlessly into modified power cleans. Between each set, Heeney, Washington and Shepherd ran through a series of box jumps designed to keep the muscles stretched between weight-training reps.

“It’s awesome,” Hudy said when asked how the football players had responded to the new approach. “They’re great. They’re into it. Weight training’s a part of their culture and they’ve really taken in the information and been really dedicated. It’s easier to move, so they’re seeing it pay off.”

At this point, the hard work is done. Heeney, Shepherd and a handful of other Jayhawks can only wait to learn their fate.

While those two are the most likely Jayhawks to get drafted, cornerback Dexter McDonald and wide receiver Nigel King also may have a shot. In addition to that quartet, several players from last year’s 3-9 squad figure to earn pro camp invitations via free agency following the completion of the draft.

Heeney and Shepherd each will host their own draft parties with their families while waiting for their names to be called.

“I’ll probably be glued to the TV the whole draft,” Heeney said. “I’m still excited about the whole thing. This is something that you only experience once and I want to soak it all in and enjoy it with my family.”