Football Player/Track Athlete
Holy Cross HS/University of Notre Dame
An astonishing halfback and track and field athlete at Holy Cross High School, Joe Heap received four letters for his gridiron heroics and three more as a sprinter on the track team from 1947-50.
As a freshman, Heap was a back-up to the great Hank Lauricella, also a Sugar Bowl/Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Famer and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a senior at the University of Tennessee in 1951. Heap burst on the scene as a starter in 1948, scoring 16 touchdowns as a sophomore. During his junior and senior seasons, Heap led Holy Cross to the Prep League football championships. His 1949 Tiger team was state runner-up to Byrd High of Shreveport.
Heap earned All-State accolades in 1950. He ended his high school career with 55 touchdowns, a record that stood for nearly three decades. The Tigers had a record of 27 wins, four losses and a tie during his three seasons as a starting back.
He capped his senior year by entering and winning four events in the state track meet.
A football legend at the University of Notre Dame, Heap is the only player in Fighting Irish history to be named an Academic All-American three consecutive years (1952-53, 1953-54 and 1954-55).
He became part of a backfield that has been reputed to be Notre Dame’s greatest in history.
Quarterback Ralph Guglielmi was drafted by the Washington Redskins, left halfback Johnny Lattner (the Heisman Trophy winner in 1953) went to the Pittsburgh Steelers, fullback Neil Worden was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles and Heap was the first round pick of the New York Giants. Notre Dame was voted the nation’s top team in the sportswriters’ poll.
Playing the toughest schedule in the U.S., Notre Dame toppled or tied five major college conference champions in Heap’s sophomore year of 1952, and in 1953 took on a backbreaking intersectional schedule that included Oklahoma, Purdue, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Navy, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa, Southern California and Southern Methodist, most of which were nationally ranked.
Of Heap’s ability, Fighting Irish Coach Frank Leahy said, “Joe Heap could run, pass, kick, receive passes and run back kickoffs better than anyone I’ve ever coached.”
In 1952 against Pittsburgh, Heap returned a punt 92 yards, and in 1953, he scored on an 84-yard punt return. As a senior, Heap scored on an 89-yard run against SMU in a nationally televised game. It was the third longest run in Notre Dame history.
He led the Irish in pass receptions for three straight years, finishing with 78 catches. Heap was also the first Irish player to surpass 1,000 yards in career rushing and receiving.
Chosen to play in the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco, Heap helped the East’s victory. After one season, the first-round pick’s professional career was cut short as he went on to serve with the U.S. Air Force for three years. However, Heap remained active by leading his Air Force team to an undefeated season as service champion.