It was time, Vivian Heyward-Bey decided. Her son needed to face the world on his own and leave his familiar surroundings.
For Darrius Heyward-Bey, that uneasy time came much sooner than for most. He was 14 years old, burgeoning with talent and in need of a challenge to his vast potential, his mom thought.
As difficult as it was, Vivian Heyward-Bey knew her son — the person she calls her best friend and idol — wouldn't stand a chance if he didn't get into the right environment. So she ejected Darrius from the nest when her instincts told her it was time.
Vivian Heyward-Bey sent Darrius from their home in Silver Spring, Md., to McDonogh School, a boarding school in a Baltimore suburb, so he could become a man. Eight years later, the wide receiver from the University of Maryland was drafted seventh overall by the Raiders.
"It's a relief that it's over, that I have a home," the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Heyward-Bey said of his selection.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, 22, still is soaking in the fact that a skinny kid from Silver Spring can make it so far in such a short time. He will don a Raiders uniform for the first time Friday, when the team conducts a three-day minicamp in Alameda.
Some youngsters dream of playing in the NFL. Heyward-Bey set his sights upon playing basketball when he arrived at McDonogh on a scholarship. Then he tapped into his ability to run faster than most and was named a first-team All-American in the indoor 60 meters.
At one point, Heyward-Bey even contemplated a hockey career. Football never entered his mind. McDonogh football coach Dom D'Amico recognized the potential long before Heyward-Bey knew the difference between a post route and a post office.
"He didn't even know how to put the outfit on, the uniform," Vivian Heyward-Bey said in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. "He just didn't know the game."
D'Amico said Heyward-Bey was "as raw as you could get."
Heyward-Bey also was never content. He had watched his mother raise a family by herself and work non-stop. It had taught him to put his head down, get his work done and never complain. He also was blessed with a desire to succeed at whatever he did and uncommon speed.
"Looking at the facts, I probably should've gone to (college) for track," he said. "But I'm one of those guys who is very confident in himself. I knew in any situation I would be in, I was going to work hard to become the best."
Heyward-Bey earned a football scholarship to Maryland and developed into a big-play receiver with the potential to score every time he touched the ball.
He lacked the mind-numbing stats of Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin in college, but few can match Heyward-Bey's speed. He posted a 4.3-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February and cemented his status as a first-round draft pick.
Heyward-Bey hugged close friend and mentor Devard Darling as soon as Raiders coach Tom Cable called with the news that he was the newest member of the team.
The news might have caught Heyward-Bey and others by surprise. However, Darling, a receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs, said he knew Heyward-Bey was destined to be a Raider once he ran the 4.3 at the combine.
"The sky's the limit for this guy," Darling said. "People will say he's going to be a draft bust, but it is what it is. He deserves to be there, and he proved a lot of people wrong."
Maryland receivers coach Lee Hull said Heyward-Bey differs from other fast players drafted into the NFL for their speed and potential to deliver game-altering plays.
"The big thing with Darrius is, he's a football player who ran track in high school," Hull said by phone. "As evidence, he didn't run track at Maryland so that he could concentrate on football. Darrius wants to succeed, and he won't let down the Raiders."
Hakeem Sule, Heyward-Bey's closest friend, said he pictured Heyward-Bey hitting it big from the moment they met before their freshman year at McDonogh.
"I looked at him and said, 'Man, this kid is going to be a 6-foot-9 power forward,'"" Sule said by phone. "I never imagined him turning into an NFL player."
Sule and others talked Heyward-Bey into giving football a shot at McDonogh because there wasn't much else going on until basketball started.
Heyward-Bey lined up at running back, took a pitch out, sprinted toward the sideline and "some guy hit the hell out him, knocked him out of bounds," Sule said.
End of experiment. Heyward-Bey moved to receiver on the next play, sprinted downfield, outleaped a defender, made the catch and turned it into a touchdown.
"That's when I knew he had something special, that he had what it takes," Sule said. "We had heard he was fast, but we didn't know that he was that fast."
Darling's wife, Cicely, was the track coach at McDonogh when Heyward-Bey showed up. Time and again, she came home and raved about this kid on the track team.
Darling took Heyward-Bey into his house the summer before his senior season in high school and prepared him for life as a football player.
"He's more talented than 85, 90 percent of the receivers in the league now," Darling said.
The Raiders are convinced, even if others aren't. Numerous draft analysts and columnists derided Oakland's selection of Heyward-Bey at No. 7 as a reach, saying the team known for its unconventional draft picks landed a player who can run fast but is flawed catching the ball.
Hull and others who know Heyward-Bey best say the knock about his pass-catching ability isn't warranted and that he has improved each year.
"I have never seen anybody who deals with adversity like Darrius," Vivian Heyward-Bey told the Baltimore Sun. "They doubted him in high school, and they doubted him in college. But he persevered way beyond anybody's imagination. He doesn't take it as criticism; he takes it as a challenge."
Contact Steve Corkran at email@example.com.
In 2006, he ran a 4.23-second 40-yard dash, which set the school record for a wide receiver. ...Led the Terps as a freshman with 45 catches, and set a school record for a freshman with 694 receiving yards. ... As a sophomore, led Maryland in receptions (51) and receiving yards (786). ... Earned all-ACC honorable mention as a junior. ... Finished his career at Maryland second in school history in receiving yards (2,089), third in receptions (138) and tied for third in touchdown catches (13)
Year Games Rec Yds Avg Lg TD
2006 13 45 694 15.4 96 5
2007 13 51 786 15.4 63 3
2008 12 42 609 14.5 80 5
Totals 38 138 2,089 15.1 -- 13