Pitt’s Heyward, Cavanaugh up for College Hall

Bring on a charging defender, and Craig "Ironhead" Heyward could run him over.

Or jump over him.

Or make a spin move and race downfield.

A tailback built like a heavyweight wrestler, Heyward ran his way into Pitt football folklore in 1987 with a season for the ages. A hard-to-believe combination of size (5-foot-11, 265 pounds), speed and agility, Heyward rushed for 1,791 yards that season, earned consensus All-American honors and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. In three seasons, Heyward bullied his way to 3,086 career yards, which ranks fifth on Pitt's all-time list.

When it comes to winning, few at Pitt did it more often than quarterback Matt Cavanaugh.

A mobile runner and gifted passer, Cavanaugh led the Panthers to an undefeated season and the 1976 national championship and was MVP of the Gator Bowl the following season, in which he missed three full games and most of the season opener against Notre Dame with a broken wrist.

Heyward and Cavanaugh already etched their places in Pitt football history, and the pair could add to their respective legacies if selected as part of the 2021 induction class into the College Football Hall of Fame.

The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame announced Tuesday the players included on the ballot of induction. Heyward and Cavanaugh are among 78 players and seven coaches from the Football Bowl Subdivision. There also are 99 players and 33 coaches from other divisions.

"It's an enormous honor to just be on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot, considering more than 5.4 million people have played college football and only 1,027 players have been inducted," NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell said in a statement"The Hall's requirement of being a first-team All-American creates a much smaller pool of about 1,500 individuals who are even eligible. Being in today's elite group means an individual is truly among the greatest to have ever played the game."

Other criteria for selection include being 10 seasons removed from a candidate's final college game and having played within the past 50 years.

Among those joining Heyward and Cavanaugh as candidates are defensive backs Champ Bailey (Georgia) and Aaron Beasley (West Virginia), running back D.J. Dozier (Penn State), wide receivers Bobby Engram (Penn State) and Marvin Harrison (Syracuse), tight end Tony Gonzalez (California), linebacker Ray Lewis (Miami), former Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, running back and Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam and offensive lineman Steve Wisniewski (Penn State). Also on the ballot is Tennessee defensive back/punter Bobby Majors, younger brother of former Pitt head coach Johnny Majors, who died earlier this month.

Candidates will be selected for induction later this year. Last year, 19 were honored.

Heyward, the father of Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward, died 14 years ago from a brain tumor, but he remains one of Pitt football's most popular players.

He rushed for 100 yards in all 12 games in 1987, then was selected by the Saints in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Heyward, who was on the hall ballot last year, spent 11 seasons in the league and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1995 after rushing for 1,083 yards with the Falcons. He posthumously will be inducted into the Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame later this year.

Cavanaugh, also named to last year's ballot, earned MVP honors in the Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia that culminated the national championship season, and in the Gator Bowl the following season, he passed for 387 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-3 win against Clemson. Pitt finished that season 9-2-1.

He went on to 14-year NFL career, and the second-round pick of the Patriots in 1978 was on Super Bowl-winning teams with the 49ers (1984) and Giants (1990) as a back-up. He also earned a ring in 2000 as offensive coordinator for the Ravens. Cavanaugh also spent three seasons (2005-08) as Pitt's offensive coordinator, and the longtime coach spent the 2019 as senior offensive assistant with the Redskins.

With 26 inductees, Pitt is tied with Ohio State for fourth most. Only Notre Dame (46), USC (43) and Michigan (41) have more. Among the Panthers enshrined in the Atlanta-based hall are Mike Ditka (1986), Tony Dorsett (1994), Bill Fralic (1999), Hugh Green (1996) and Dan Marino (2002).

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