Brian Kelly would later say it felt like the ball hung in the air "for an eternity." The forward had chipped a pass into the scrum in front of the Virginia net, and with the final horn about to sound and the top-ranked Cavaliers leading by one, every player leapt for the ball with an extra measure of desperation.

But only one player got his head on the ball, and he was one of the smallest on the field. With five seconds remaining, 5-foot-8 Duke freshman Jay Heaps redirected Kelly's pass into the net, handing the Blue Devils an emotional 3-3 tie against the three-time defending national champs.

"He was not going to be denied," coach John Rennie said of that moment. "That's a quality he's always had that continues to make him a great player."

Now a rookie for MLS's Miami Fusion, Heaps is still rising above the pack with the athleticism and all-around game that made him one of Duke's brightest stars. For four years, the Blue Devils could always count on Heaps to be the one leaping for the ball as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

"He's the most competetive person I've ever met," said current Duke forward Peter Gail, who played with Heaps for three seasons. "Even in the smallest game, in a little game of cards or anything like that, he wants to win."

Heaps wouldn't let the Blue Devils lose against the Cavaliers that afternoon in October of 1995. Duke had trailed 3-1 with less than two minutes remaining in the second overtime, but with 1:35 to go Heaps ran down a pass deep in UVa's end and lined a shot into the open net when the Cavalier goalie failed to clear the ball.

A minute and a half later, Heaps thrilled the crowd of 4,000 at Koskinen Stadium with his game-tying header.

And Heaps wasn't done shocking UVa. On Dec. 8, a month after the Cavaliers downed the Blue Devils 4-1 in the ACC tournament, the two teams faced off for their third meeting of the season, this time in the NCAA semifinals.

In the 19th minute of play, Heaps booted in a rebound from 15 yards out to put Duke up 1-0. He then assisted on the Blue Devils' final two goals as they stunned UVa and the college soccer world with a 3-2 victory that ended the Cavs' title run at four.

"I remember looking up at the scoreboard with 30 seconds left and realizing we were going to win," Heaps said. "It was an unbelievable feeling."

The native of Longmeadow, Mass., would earn national freshman of the year honors after starting all 24 games and contributing 15 goals and nine assists for Duke, which went on to fall 2-0 to Wisconsin in the championship game.

Three more years remained for Heaps and fellow freshman sensations Evan Whitfield and Josh Henderson, with three more postseason runs sure to follow. Over those final three years, however, nothing seemed to go as planned for Heaps and Duke.

By the end of September, 1996, the Blue Devils, who returned all but one of their starters, were 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. But they fell to Maryland 4-1 Sept. 29 and proceeded to lose half of their final 12 games. A year after reaching the NCAA title game, Duke wasn't even invited to the tournament.

"I knew it would be tough to get back to the national championship game, but I think we took for granted the chemistry we had on that team," Heaps said. "Every player would die on the field, and when you have 11 guys playing that way, it's unstoppable. It was fun to be a part of on and off the field.... [In ''96], we had poor leadership; things were bad on and off the field."

Heaps rebounded with 12 goals and 10 assists in '97 after scoring just five times as a sophomore. Duke followed suit, posting a 15-5 record and winning the ACC regular-season crown.

On the night of Nov. 17, the players and coaching staff gathered at Damon's Restaurant to watch the NCAA selection show and find out their first-round opponent. It would be what Heaps calls "one of the most crushing days of my life."

Sixteen schools' names were announced as earning at-large bids; Duke was not among them. Nearly two years later, Heaps doesn't comprehend the selection committee's decision any more than he did that night in Damon's. But he said he managed to channel all his anger into motivation for his final season.

"I looked forward to practice every day," Heaps said of the '98 campaign. "Every senior knows that every time they step on the field they have to put all their heart and emotion in every game because it'll never be the same."

And he responded with another stellar year (13 goals, eight assists). His team put together an 18-2 regular season that not only earned Duke an NCAA tourney bid but the No. 3 seed and a home game in the first round.

For the last time in Heaps' time in Durham, though, things didn't quite go as they were supposed to.

After Jacksonville stormed to a 3-1 lead, Heaps scored what would be the final goal of his storied career in the 72nd minute of play, hoping to spark one more stirring comeback. But despite outshooting the Dolphins 14-7, Duke saw shot after shot sail high or wide or into the Jacksonville keeper's arms.

"If I'm going to bed and start thinking about it, I can't sleep," Heaps said of his last game. "It hurts your heart to think about it. We had such a great team. To be knocked out in such a crazy game-there are so many things you want to go back and change."

The loss to Jacksonville was not his last as a Duke athlete, however. Heaps was played on the men's basketball team, but in a very different role from that on the soccer field.

Like most professional athletes, Heaps has been a superstar for nearly all his life. In high school, he was an All-American and Massachusetts player of the year. In college, he earned the 1998 Missouri Athletic Club Award as the national player of the year and finished his career in the top four in Duke history in goals, assists and points. He then became the second pick in last year's MLS draft and started all but one of the Fusion's games this season as a rookie.

But Heaps also knows what it's like to be the guy sitting at the end of the bench. Not long after he returned to school in January of his freshman year, the men's basketball team, Duke's prized program, was looking for players to fill its injury-depleted roster. Soon Heaps, a two-time All-Massachusetts point guard in high school, added basketball walk-on to his already impressive athletic resume.

His appearances were often limited to the the nights that Duke led by dozens of points and fans yelled "Heeeeeeaps" until Krzyzewski brought him in. But the soccer standout said he learned a lot even while sitting on the bench.

"On every team there are guys who are not going to start or even play," he said. "But they're just as important as the starters. There were days in practice when I knew I wasn't even looked at.

"But as long as I played my heart out, I went home happy."

Heaps could say the same of his four years at Duke.