FOXBOROUGH - You can find Jay Heaps in the archives of local newspapers long before he was a Revolution defender. A product of Longmeadow, Heaps was a multisport athlete who took his talents to Duke University, where he played soccer and walked on with the basketball team.
One activity was never enough for Heaps. Balancing life with sports became an art he mastered. And no matter how much he stacked his schedule, no one could question his desire to be successful.
Heaps motivated himself by remembering nothing could be assumed. Even after six full seasons with the Revolution, Heaps paid attention to moves during the offseason and realized if he wanted to remain a factor on this year's team, it was up to him.
The Revolution brought in right back Chris Albright from the Los Angeles Galaxy in January, and Heaps willingly moved to the left side. All the while, Heaps heard the chatter that a left back was on the Revolution's wish list.
Heaps viewed it as a challenge, and turned his seventh full season with the Revolution into one of the best of his career.
"It really felt like the first preseason in a couple of years where it was a full-out battle for my position, and it really wasn't even my position because it was a challenge at a new position," Heaps said. "I was fighting for it and really it was a shift mentally, but I enjoyed the switch. It really did help me to mentally prepare for the game and go back to the basics."
Heaps became the only Revolution player and one of six in the league to play every minute of every league game this season. It was the first time in Heaps's 10-year MLS career that he accomplished the feat, playing 2,700 minutes.
During a season in which the Revolution were frequently dealing with lineup changes, Heaps became a constant.
"The last three seasons, he's been as consistent a player as we've had," said coach Steve Nicol. "You're always looking for players to play at a high level of consistency. The more players you have that do that, then the more success you'll have."
Heaps has the longest current tenure with the Revolution, joining the team in 2001 via a trade with the Miami Fusion, two years after he won the league's Rookie of the Year as a midfielder. In 2002, players such as Steve Ralston and Taylor Twellman arrived, with Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis joining the club in 2003.
Nicol became interim coach in 2002 and has led the club ever since, and through it all Heaps has witnessed the team's rise in the MLS.
With that history comes perspective, and it has come in handy this season as the Revolution have had to work younger players into the lineup to replace more experienced players out with injuries. Tonight, the Revolution face the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and Heaps said that perspective can help to prepare for matches like tonight's.
Heaps said he tries to attack big games by keeping everything on a smaller scale. He shared those thoughts with rookie Chris Tierney last week before Tierney started his first playoff match at defender.
"He's one of the older guys that really does everything he can to make the younger guys comfortable and give some of his experience and advice," Tierney said. "He's great at trying to look at everyone on the field that's playing as another member of the team. He's not looking at you as a rookie or as someone who doesn't have any experience."
Defender Michael Parkhurst joined the Revolution in 2005, and said he has noticed many intangibles in playing beside Heaps.
"I think he has had one of the best years since I've been here," Parkhurst said. "He's just Mr. Dependable back there. I don't think anybody in the league wants to win more than that guy . . . He makes me a better player because I have confidence in him one on one, so I don't have to leave my position to help him out too much. I know he can handle himself out there."
Said Reis, "At practice he's all keyed up and ready to go. You don't find that with a lot of young players, so he's someone that people should look at and pay attention to what he's done. He's someone our younger players should aspire to be."
Nothing would mean more to Heaps than to help the Revolution win their first MLS Cup. He grew up a fan of all things New England, from the Red Sox to the Patriots. Plus, he is able to continue his career in front of his family, which includes his two sisters and parents John and Jane, who still live in Longmeadow.
Family remains important to Heaps, as he and his wife, Danielle, raise 3-year-old son Jack and 1-year-old daughter Olivia in Franklin. At 32, Heaps said he is in no hurry to end his professional career because the sport remains fun.
"I still love it so much," Heaps said. "I enjoy every aspect of it. Obviously, it's tough because there is a timetable on professional athletes' careers, but my heart is still in it 100 percent, and I'll go until the heart gives out."
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.