October 30, 2013 - Jeff Heath, a 2009 Lake Orion graduate, is living an improbable but glorious dream.
His family and friends are lovin' it, too, enjoying every moment of the ride along with him.
Heath came home on Sunday as a rookie starting safety on the Dallas Cowboys in a game against the Detroit Lions.
It has been a meteoric journey that seems so surreal that parents Mike and Dianne say they feel like pinching themselves to make sure it isn't a dream.
"He's living his dream," said Dianne Heath. "What more could a parent want?"
"It's finally hit me that he made it," Mike Heath said.
What makes his ascension to the pinnacle of football even more amazing is the path he has taken.
Mike Heath said Jeff was quick when he played football at Lake Orion but most coaches and family members thought he would accept a scholarship from a division one college team to play soccer.
But Jeff enjoyed playing football more and went to Saginaw Valley State University one day with some friends to try out for the football team. Coaches there liked him and offered a partial scholarship.
Heath played well at SVSU and as he bulked up more, he maintained his speed, which got the attention of professional scouts. By the time he was a senior, he was close to 200 pounds and could still run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds.
But, there are scores of players coming out of large college programs that can run fast.
He was not a "can't miss" football prospect at Lake Orion or Saginaw Valley and was not drafted by any team in the National Football League. The Dallas Cowboys saw something they liked though and contacted Heath a few minutes after the NFL draft was completed and asked if he would be interested in coming to camp as a free agent.
The odds of making it as a free agent were slim but Heath went and showed not only that he has the physical ability but impressed coaches and players with his "football intelligence" and play at safety.
He survived several player cuts until he finally made the Cowboys final 53-man roster.
"He said, 'all I can do is the best I can do,'" Dianne Heath said of his efforts to make the team.
Initially Jeff was playing on special teams and quickly made a name for himself. Early on, Cowboy coaches commented about his knowledge of how to play his position and said he played the position more like a veteran.
It shows how well he was coached, both in the Lake Orion program since grade school, and at Saginaw Valley. Dad Mike is an assistant football coach at Lake Orion and coached Jeff since he was in grade school.
Mike Heath said coaches Chris Bell, Dave Tooley and John Blackstock were all big influences in Jeff's development.
"Jeff has always seemed to have a better understanding of the game than many kids," Mike Heath said.
After some injuries and other events that took place on the Cowboys, Heath got his first start of the season on Sunday in Detroit, in the stadium where he watched his home team Lions since he was a boy.
A contingent of 82 family, friends and others made it to the game and sat together in an area where they could cheer for Jeff. Many, including his parents, wore his number 38 Cowboy jersey.
Even though the Cowboys lost to the Lions, Dianne Heath said it was a perfect day. Jeff was one of the team's leading tacklers in the game.
Family members, including Jeff's sister Melanie, and dozens of others from the community were there. That doesn't include hundreds or thousands of Dragons who undoubtedly watched the game at home.
"We have so many people in the community come up to us and say they are proud of Jeff," Dianne said. "It has been unbelievable."
"We were so happy to have everyone there at the game," Dianne Heath said. "Co-workers, family and others were all there."
After the game, some friends and family were able to visit with Jeff outside of Ford Field before the players got on a bus to go the airport and return to Dallas.
"Jeff was disappointed to lose but he was so happy that we were there and could see him."
The former Dragon has obviously been impressive to the Cowboy coaching staff too.
After the Cowboys beat the Redskins a few weeks ago, Heath was awarded the special teams player of the game.
When he was given the award, a coach remarked that just a few months ago he didn't know Jeff's name and still doesn't know where Saginaw Valley is, but added; "You're making a name for yourself now."
Former Leader Editor Dan Shriner will cover Wildcat football this season.