Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun editors Ray Brewer and Case Keefer go through every division and team in the 4A and 3A high school football classifications in their annual season-opening podcast.
DJ Heckard was always finding himself in foul trouble when he played basketball.
He was bigger than most of the other kids and ultra-aggressive, which led to more than his share of foul calls — some fair; others unfair. For better or worse, referees always seemed to pay extra attention to him because of his size.
That partially led to Heckard back to football.
When he joined the Faith Lutheran High team for his junior season, Heckard hadn’t played football since grade school. At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and possessing good footwork from basketball, he instantly found success at defensive end. A few months later, he landed his first scholarship offer. Now, the likes of Arizona State, UNLV and San Diego State are courting the 2019 prospect.
He’s part of the Sun’s preseason all-city team, which is made up of the area’s top 27 players.
“Nobody else was 220 pounds going into high school,” he said. “I learned being my size in basketball, it sucks. Everything was a foul. In football, you can use it.”
Heckard had 33 tackles last season in nine games, according to Max Preps. Unlike other players with more experience in football, Heckard’s unfamiliarity with the sport proved to be an advantage because he hadn’t developed many bad habits.
He’s credited with having a long reach, quickness and good instincts. As he learned football, “there were definitely so many embarrassing moments last year in practice,” he said with a laugh.
This isn’t the first time Faith Lutheran has taken a big-bodied basketball player and turned him into a college football prospect. John Molchon went from being a post player for the Crusaders basketball team to an all-Mountain West offensive lineman at Boise State.
“When you look at him, he’s a grown man,” Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox said of Heckard. “He said he would come out and give it a try. He had fun but didn’t know what he was doing. He was running around and loved it. We saw he had talent and knew it would take time.”
But it’s not taking as much time as expected. Just a few months into the new sport, that player so raw in potential secured his first scholarship offer.
“I was hoping to get one offer by my senior year,” he said. “I was so excited, that I ran out of the (coach’s office) and forgot my backpack.”
Here’s the rest of our preseason team, which includes three others from Faith Lutheran. The season starts Friday.
Kyle Beaudry, linebacker, Liberty: Verbally committed to UNLV as he starts his senior year, he had 66 tackles — 11 for a negative yards — and 10 sacks in 2017.
Cade Briggs, offensive lineman, Bishop Gorman: The 6-foot-4, 287-pound Briggs has scholarship offers from Air Force, Tulane and Hawaii.
Billy Davis, defensive back, Arbor View: Davis, a senior, had 63 tackles, three sacks and an interception in 2017.
Amod Cianelli, running back, Bishop Gorman: As a junior, he rushed for 997 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017 for the nine-time defending state champion Gaels.
Kyle Graham, running back, Arbor View: As a junior, he rushed for 650 yards and five touchdowns in 2017 and led the Aggies with 274 receiving yards and another five touchdowns.
Troy Fautanu, offensive lineman/defensive lineman, Liberty: The 6-foot-4, 260 pound senior has scholarship offers from many Pac-12 Conference schools.
Austin Fiaseu, defensive back, Liberty: The UNLV commit had three interceptions for 142 return yards in 2017 to go along with 34 tackles and two sacks.
Zyrus Fiaseu, safety, Liberty: The sophomore was a freshman All-American in 2017, rushing for 562 yards and four touchdowns and recording 15 tackles. He also had an interception return for a touchdown.
Amorey Foster, cornerback, Legacy: The speedster had 79 tackles and 688 all-purpose yards in 2017 as a junior for the Longhorns.
T.K. Fotu, running back/linebacker, Durango: The senior this fall will be a three-year contributor on both sides of ball. In 2017, he rushed for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns, and had 69 tackles. That’s more rushing yardage than any other returning in Nevada.
Ma’a Gaoteote, linebacker, Faith Lutheran: The sophomore was a Max Prep freshman All-American last season, registering 56 tackles, three sacks and an interception. He’s verbally committed to USC.
Sagan Gronauer, quarterback, Faith Lutheran: Now a senior, he passed for 2,398 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. The third-year starter is verbally committed to Idaho State.
Falcon Kaumatule, defensive lineman, Bishop Gorman: The 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior has scholarship offers from BYU and Utah. As a junior, he had 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble last season.
Hunter Kaupiko, linebacker, Faith Lutheran: A junior this year, he led Faith Lutheran with 103 tackles in 2017.
Kyu Kelly, cornerback, Bishop Gorman: The senior, who is committed to Stanford, had four interceptions in 2017. He is also a multiple event champion on Gorman’s track and field team.
Gabriel Lopez, defensive lineman, Desert Pines: The junior, who helped the Jaguars win the past two class 3A titles, had 93 tackles and 14 sacks in 2017. The defensive end has a scholarship offer from Minnesota.
Jahssiah Maiava, linebacker, Sierra Vista: A senior this year, he registered 48 tackles last season, including 14 tackles for a loss.
Matt Smith, offensive lineman, Arbor View: The 6-foot, 255-pound Smith is considered the best lineman for the program whose running game is considered the best. He was an all-Northwest League pick in 2017.
Beau Taylor, offensive lineman, Gorman: The 6-foot-5, 290-pound senior, who will be a three-year varsity contributor, is verbally committed to UCLA.
Luke Toomalatai, defensive lineman, Liberty: The defensive tackle had 43 tackles and three sacks as a junior last season.
JJ Tuinei, linebacker, Arbor View: The senior has scholarship offers from Army, Portland State and Southern Utah. He had 75 tackles in 2017 — including 10 for negative yards.
Darnell Washington, tight end, Desert Pines: Not only is Washington one of Las Vegas’ best players, he is also a prized 2020 recruit with scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama and Michigan. He’s had about 400 receiving yards last season. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior also plays on the defensive line.
Gavin Wale, kicker and punter, Coronado: The senior has a 4.5 star ranking out of five stars by Chris Sailer Kicking, which is the authority on evaluating specialists. Wale, who has scholarship offers from Air Force and Army, made 5 of 7 field goal attempts in 2017 and averaged 42.4 yards per punt.
Cervontes White, wide receiver, Liberty: As a junior, he had 34 receptions for 653 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017. He has a scholarship offer from BYU.
Cameron Wiley, running back, Desert Pines: The 6-foot-2, 205-pound running back is verbally committed to Minnesota.
Brandon Yates, offensive lineman, Liberty: The 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior tackle has scholarship offers from the likes of West Virginia, Utah and Arizona State.