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INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to families with NFL bloodlines, few rival the Mannings. Father Archie played quarterback in the league for 13 seasons and was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Saints. Youngest son Eli is the current QB for the Giants and a former Super Bowl MVP. And middle child Peyton is a four-time MVP who's on pace to set nearly every passing mark in the NFL record book.
This week at Lucas Oil Stadium, which is essentially "The House That Peyton Built," several other familiar names are hoping to extend their family legacies in the league. From brothers of current stars to sons of All-Pros, it seemed that everywhere one turned at the NFL Scouting Combine, there was another player who won't be the first of his family to play on Sundays.
There was Oregon LB Casey Matthews, whose brother, father, grandfather and uncle all played in the league. Penn State C Stefen Wisniewski, son of former NFL NT Leo and nephew of Raiders great Steve, was speaking across the room from Florida OG Mike Pouncey, the twin brother of Steelers C Maurkice. Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, the son of the late NFL FB Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and Alabama RB Mark Ingram, whose dad by the same name played in the league for 10 seasons, also were in attendance. Even Alabama QB Greg McElroy benefited from the genes of his father, who never played a down in the NFL but has been a longtime member of the Cowboys' front office as their senior vice president of sales and marketing.
All of the prospects with NFL bloodlines were asked about their famous fathers, uncles and brothers during their media sessions. Wisniewski said upholding the family name was motivation "to match or exceed what (his dad and uncle) have done." Matthews has felt some the stress of living up to expectations, saying, "Just seeing the success my dad had, my brother is having, I put pressure on myself to get to their level." McElroy joked that he had interviews set up with a bunch of teams but, "I haven't talked to Dallas. They told me they don't need to know any more about me."
Ingram gave his father credit in an interview with PFW, saying it was his dad's teaching that pushed him toward football as a child.
"Ever since I was little he's been working with me, helping me get the skills that I had together and pushing me every single day," said the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. "He's coached me since I was little. He always coached me. Anything he sees, he'll help me."
Like the three Manning quarterbacks, many of the 2011 prospects that are following in family footsteps play the same position as their relatives. All the Wisniewskis are offensive linemen, as are both Pouncey twins. Matthews is seen as the same type of pass-rushing outside linebacker as his brother, Clay, a star on the Packers. Ingram Sr. was a wide receiver and his son is a running back, but the biggest difference between generations is that of the Heywards. "Ironhead" Heyward was a bruising 265-pound fullback for 11 seasons, while his son is a 294-pound disruptive defensive end. Unlike some of the other players at the Combine with family histories, Cameron Heyward is trying to separate himself from his famous name, not embrace it.
"I can't follow it. It's his legacy. I want to be in the NFL, and he was there. I want to leave a legacy of my own," the former Buckeye said. "I don't want to live in his shadow. He was a great player and he's always in my heart. I appreciate everything he's done. But I want to do everything by my own. I'm not asking anybody to give me a second look or anything just because my dad was 'Ironhead.' They all know I have a big head just like him."
"Ironhead" Heyward died in May 2006 after a seven-year battle with a recurring brain tumor. He never got to see Cameron suit up at The Ohio State University, but as the younger Heyward pointed out, his memory is still with the big defensive end.
"I get to run into guys that he knew. It's funny to hear stories about him," he said. "To see those guys around, it's a true pleasure, because you get to hear all these stories about your dad. It just gives you great (memories) about him."
As for why he chose to be a Buckeye instead of following his dad and be a Pittsburgh Panther, Heyward showed that at least one of his dad's traits was passed down: a great sense of humor.
"Because they're not known as THE Pitt," Heyward said with a giant smile on his face. "I think it's my dad's school. My mom went there as well. I have a bunch of family there, but I wanted to branch out a little bit and try something new."
After that, Heyward was gone, his media obligations for the week completed. As he walked away in "The House That Peyton Built," ready to show off the strength and toughness passed down from his dad, it was hard to deny that as much as he'd like to create his own legacy, having football bloodlines has been a great benefit to he and many of the prospects hoping to be picked in the draft.