Quarterbacks got the most attention in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals held a workout for local players this week.
But 21 other players share the field with them, and a potential sleeper pick with local ties was sitting a few lockers away as J.T. Barrett and Malik Zaire talked about their pro prospects.
Heath Harding, who starred at Dayton Christian before becoming an All-MAC defensive back at Miami University, didn’t look too offended.
He was happy for the chance to work out in front of more NFL scouts — and to explain what he can bring to a team.
“I can cover well. I can hit. I can set the edge in run support, and I have great versatility,” he said. “I can play inside, outside or over the top at safety.”
“Happy” seems to be the default setting for Harding, who already has a good idea about what he wants to do when his football career is over.
He graduated with a degree in journalism in December and credited veteran sports journalist Terence Moore with taking him under his wing.
Moore, a long-time Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer who also graduated from Miami, has edited Harding’s work and many tips for making it in this business.
The biggest one? “Read the newspaper because it helps build better habits,” said Harding, who also used an internship with Miami assistant athletics director Steve Baker to learn more about the video side of the business.
Those mentors and a warm personality should take Harding far when it comes time to enter the field.
“They call me the ‘Mayor of Oxford’ because I’m a smooth talker and all that stuff,” he said. “I don’t know. That’s just how I was raised. I was raised to be a nice person. I get that from my family. That’s just me.”
First thing’s first, though.
Harding may not hear his name called early — or at all — in the NFL draft, but NFL.com rates him as having a better-than-average chance to make an NFL roster.
Listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Harding is not the most imposing physical presence, but he logged five interceptions and 20 pass breakups the past two seasons in Oxford while also making 130 tackles.
“I think every football player’s dream is to get drafted — It’s mine,” Harding said. "If it happens, great, if not, that’s not the end of the world for me. As long as I get the opportunity to play the game I love, I’ll be satisfied.”
Teams that look past his measurements will find one who was productive for four seasons at Miami and won’t back down from a challenge.
“I think like all things film speaks for itself, and I have a lot of production on film,” Harding said. “I think the film should override everything because there’s just so much of it. One workout is not going to change the perception of me that 51 games have. So I come out here and put on a show the best I can so people can see me live action, but at the end of the day I’m the same player you saw in those 51 games.”
He can cover and tackle, making him a versatile secondary player looking to find a spot in a league where those are becoming more valuable with increased reliance on three-receiver sets.
“It’s no secret that during my college career I loved to hit people,” Harding said. “Not many corners put their stamp on tackling. They just want to cover and get interceptions. I take pride in both. If you’re on my side, whether it’s run or pass, you’re gonna see me.”
He compared his style of play to that of Seahawks star safety Early Thomas, who is listed at 5-10, 202.
“Just ready to come down and smack people and cause havoc. You don’t see that usually from corners. Usually corners are the tall guys that are trying to finesse, that’s just not me. I’m a grimy player. I do what I can to get the job done.”
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