Todd Heap and his family are in the Red Mountain football community’s thoughts and prayers as they grind through spring ball. (Richard Obert/azcentral sports)
Before tragedy struck his family, Todd Heap had immersed himself into the Mesa Red Mountain football family.
New head coach Mike Peterson estimated that the former Mesa Mountain View, Arizona State and NFL tight end had given nearly 100 hours of his time, helping with a pro-style offensive philosophy, design, blocking, pass protection, run game, pass concepts.
“My hope was to ultimately convince Todd to coach tight ends,” Peterson said. “However, I have not spoke with him about that since the accident and am supporting, loving and allowing him and his family time to grieve.”
Last month, Heap lost his 3-year-old daughter Holly after accidentally running her over with his truck at their home.
The entire Red Mountain school, including the football team, has lent their support and prayers to the Heap family. They recently wore pink after Todd and his wife Ashley asked that people wear pink, offer hugs and show acts of kindness on what would have been Holly’s fourth birthday.
“We just want to show our support,” said Lance Lawson, a senior-to-be, who led Red Mountain to a surprising run to the 6A state semifinals last year with his multi-talents on offense.
Peterson said he has given Heap his space, offering texts of condolences.
But he really didn’t know if he was going to get Heap to be part of his staff until his twin sons, Preston and Kyle, sixth graders, were going to be part of the Red Mountain program.
“Todd is the most humble person you’ll ever meet,” Peterson said. “One thing he didn’t want to happen was for him to coach tight ends and his name and his notoriety overshadow the kids. That was his No. 1 concern. He wanted to be behind the scenes. We couldn’t get him to take a picture and be in the program, be on the Web site, because he didn’t want to overshadow the kids. He’s such a humble, good person.”
Even though he left rival Mountain View in the 1990s as arguably the greatest athlete in school history, Heap and his family had settled into the Red Mountain neighborhood.
“Todd really believes that kids should play where they live, and he happens to live in the community, so that’s why he’s a Red Mountain guy,” Peterson said. “I happened to meet Todd when I was at Mountain View (as an assistant coach). He had graduated a year earlier and he was already at ASU. He came around and helped, was in the weight room a lot in his off-season. I happened to know him a long time.”
Peterson said there are some dedication plans in honor of Holly Heap, but he hasn’t run that past Todd and Ashley yet because he wants to give them time to grieve.
Lawson said Heap would come by when he could to help before the accident.
“We’d use his knowledge he picked up in the NFL and college,” Lawson said. “We’re just bringing that in.”
Red Mountain’s offense once again will run through Lawson, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound dynamo, who has started on varsity since his freshman year, playing everything from quarterback to receiver to running back.
Peterson said he doesn’t expect to have Austin Duffy back at quarterback because of his commitment to baseball. But he said Lawson won’t return to quarterback. He’ll be the guy receiving the ball from somebody in various ways.
Last year, Lawson ran for 1,539 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards a carry. He also passed for 622 yards. Peterson said Lawson also will start on defense at free safety, where he can use his quickness and speed to get to balls.
Cannon Griner will be competing for the quarterback job.
“We’ve got lots of returning guys, it’s going to be explosive,” said Griner, 6-1, 190, who played some running back last season as a junior. “Our offense can’t be one guy. It’s got to be all 11.”