Friendship Collegiate running back Jonathan Haden calls his commitment to play at the University of Arizona a “business thing,” and that perspective is certainly influenced by the three older brothers who signed on to play Division I football before him.
Haden, who committed to the Wildcats in late May, needed just one visit to campus to seal his decision. He had the prototypical visit: he walked around campus and took in a practice, where he envisioned himself prospering in Rich Rodriguez’s zone-read offense.
“The teams, the coaches, the whole area – the whole feel of practice – it felt like a place I could see myself being,” Haden said. “Running back in the zone read, I just fit in with the offense that they run.”
But Haden’s upbringing in football has been anything but prototypical. His oldest brother, Joe Haden, starred at Florida and in 2010 became a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, where he is currently one of the team’s best defensive players. Two other brothers, Josh Haden (Boston College) and Jordan Haden (Florida) signed their letters-of-intent after being heavily recruited out in high school.
Following the same path hasn’t been easy for Haden, who said, ”I’ve been getting this pressure stuff since I was… five, six years old, when I started playing.”
In committing early to Arizona, he now relieves some of that pressure. Haden enters his senior year as one the area’s best running backs, and will be expected to shoulder the load of Friendship’s offense after gaining 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior (his workload varied in 2012; he carried the ball 130 times, with 20 or more carries in five games, and 10 carries or fewer in three games).
“Now I can just focus on having a big year,” said Haden, who also had offers from Ohio State, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina, N.C. State and Illinois, among several others. “Just focus on getting my teammates better.”
He plans to graduate from the Northeast charter school in January and enroll early at Arizona, which will allow for him to compete in spring ball and learn Rodriguez’s system ahead of most of the other 2014 recruiting class.
Arizona’s football program grabbed national attention Monday, releasing a video entitled “Hard Edge,” a short-film aimed at Wildcat fans and recruits featuring Rodriguez and his staff in Western attire. Arizona also introduced new uniforms earlier this spring, and in June, rolled out a new facemask prototype.
Whether any of those moves grabbed the attention of Haden is unclear — he seems more interested in proving himself on the field than acquiring flashy new threads. It’s a role he’s had to grow into since starting his football career a decade ago.
“It’s something I can’t control. It’s a blessing though, that I have brothers that are so talented,” Haden said. “I just go out there, and just be Jonathan.”
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