By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 1, 2009
HARTSVILLE, S.C. -- Roused from sleep at 6 a.m. by his mother's voice, 6-year-old Albert Haynesworth III hurried to dress and begin his daily workout routine outside. For 30 minutes, Linda Haynesworth and her middle son would run around their house as part of her plan to help him overcome a problem. Her big, overly energetic first-grader was stirring trouble in class, prompting a meeting in which a teacher suggested Albert might benefit from medication to make him less excitable.
After consulting a doctor, Linda took a different approach, believing a little hard work early in the morning might effect a change. For about two months, Albert recalled recently, he and his mother exercised together. During a follow-up meeting with Linda, the teacher praised Albert's improvement, noting the medication must have worked. "It wasn't any medication. I was tired," said Haynesworth, who shook his head and laughed at the memory.
"My mom could have just said, 'Here, take these [pills],' but that would have been the easy way, and that's not how my mom is. She was trying to show me that sometimes stuff isn't going to be easy, and some people are always going to think certain things about you no matter what, but whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as long as you're always willing to face your problems and work hard. When I think back about it, yeah, she was a tough parent, but she had to be tough. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be here where I am today."
Where he is today is at the top of the NFL. In February, the Washington Redskins lured the two-time all-pro defensive tackle from the Tennessee Titans with the most lucrative deal in league history for a defensive player -- a seven-year contract that could be worth $115 million based on performance. The package's $41 million in guarantees set an NFL mark that was eclipsed last week when the Detroit Lions committed $41.7 million to quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.
With counseling, Haynesworth, who turns 28 on June 17, rebuilt his career after struggling to overcome anger-management issues -- including the longest suspension in league history for on-field behavior after he stomped the helmetless head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode in 2006 -- that have detracted from his performance since he was a standout at the University of Tennessee.
Haynesworth was selected as an AFC starter in the last two Pro Bowls while emerging, many coaches and players said, as the league's most dominant defensive player. Uniquely agile and quick for a man of his size (the Redskins recently measured him at 6 feet 6, 340 pounds) and strength, Haynesworth regularly draws double teams, collapsing the pocket from his interior position and creating opportunities for others.
"He's one of those rare kind of players who you have to be aware of on all plays," Titans offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. "If Albert decides he wants to go somewhere, you're not going to stop him from going there."
The Redskins plan to rely on Haynesworth, in large part, to transform a defense that, despite achieving a No. 4 overall ranking last season, produced too few big plays. While he has embraced his role as the new face of the franchise, other matters have clouded his arrival in Washington.
Haynesworth was indicted in March on two misdemeanor traffic charges stemming from a December accident in Tennessee in which another driver was seriously injured. He pleaded not guilty and has declined to comment on the advice of his attorney. The league is investigating the Titans' allegations that the Redskins had improper contact with Haynesworth before he became a free agent, which could result in the loss of draft picks if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell determines Washington violated tampering rules.
And despite his success at controlling the rage with which he plays since the ugly 2006 incident, some people, Haynesworth believes, will always view him negatively. As Washington begins a three-day minicamp Friday at Redskins Park, Haynesworth is eager to start a new chapter. The stakes are high and he expects to win after watching his mother overcome bigger obstacles as a single parent.
"For anybody thinking, 'Well, now that he's got all this money, he's just going to go out there and relax,' I'm telling you, that's not going to happen," Haynesworth said. "This is my name that's on the line. Everyone is going to be looking at me, and I don't want to lose at anything I do. I look at my mom. She was both parents, she worked all the time, and then she had to come home and take care of these three boys all on her own. I look at where I am now, and everything that's happened, and the tough love she gave me . . . I'm ready for this."Building a Support System
Linda Haynesworth, 55, raised her boys, Tyriom Edwards, 35, Haynesworth and Lance McCoy, 21, in tiny Hartsville (population 7,556, according to 2000 census figures) without much help from their fathers, working long hours as a seamstress in a clothing factory, a machinist and, more recently, as a truck driver.
"She made us like a middle-class family all on her own," Haynesworth said. "She did it all by herself, with no help from any of our dads, really. I guess that was her flaw -- picking sorry men."
Haynesworth, who divorced Albert's father, Albert II, in 1985, purchased land in Hartsville and had a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house built. "We had nice cars, nice clothes. When I was like maybe 10 or 11, I had a $100 pair of [Air] Jordans. Back then, that was something," Haynesworth said. "And my mom invested well. I remember she said to me one day, 'My stock just split.' I was like, 'What does that mean?' But I did know my mom took really good care of us."
Slender with curly hair, Linda Haynesworth is uncomfortable sitting still, her family members said. Albert gave her the option to retire when the Titans selected him with the 15th overall pick in the 2002 draft, but she said: "I'm an independent person. I like to know where my bread is coming from." Albert persuaded Linda to switch careers, becoming his de facto personal assistant. The plan is for Linda to accompany Albert to Washington.
"I always hoped my boys would pick up my work ethic," Linda said last month as she sat back in her chair after eating Sunday dinner, a Southern spread that included fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and peach cobbler, .
"If you work for your own, if you channel your energy into something positive, you don't have to depend on other people. The time will come when you're going to have problems, but I never wanted them to have the excuse that, 'We didn't have this and we didn't have that.' I made sure they were never without so there were no excuses. It would have been nice to have someone to help me, a partner, because I could have spent more time with them, but that wasn't meant to be."
Haynesworth's father still resides in the Hartsville area. Although he and Albert have maintained contact, they are not close because "he wasn't around" when Albert was growing up. "Sometimes I thought about, 'Why isn't he here?' When I would see my mom working so hard, like when she was working 18, 19 hours straight sometimes, I would think about it. I don't hate him, but I don't love what he did for me and what he showed me. I'm not going to say that. It is what it is. People chose their path in life. We all have choices to make and he chose to do what he did. That's just the truth. I have three kids [two with his wife and one from a previous relationship], and I know how important it is for me to be there for them."
To overcome the absence of Albert's father, Linda made sure he had strong male role models, she said. Albert sometimes spent weekends at the home of his uncle, Evans Gilliard, his father's brother-in-law, and has remained close with Gilliard's children, Evans III and Trena Addison. Gerald Malloy, a South Carolina state senator, has been a mentor to Haynesworth for more than 20 years. "But it was his mother, of course, who was always the driving force," Malloy said. Concerned about Albert's weight as a child, Linda, who has been athletic her whole life, enrolled him in sports. He took to football quickly and became one of the nation's top prospects as a junior at Hartsville High.
Haynesworth helped the team reach the state 4A championship game as a junior (he had a disappointing senior season) and Linda's home was deluged with college scholarship offers. Although Albert went on recruiting trips, he quickly chose Tennessee. It helped that then-Volunteers coach Phillip Fulmer forged a quick bond with Linda.
By his junior year, Haynesworth was among the best defensive tackles in the Southeastern Conference, but his temper occasionally caused problems. During his sophomore season with the Volunteers, Haynesworth fought with a teammate, left practice and returned with a long pole, seeking tackle Will Ofenheusle. Fulmer stopped Haynesworth.
Seated at a table in a downtown Knoxville, Tenn., restaurant recently, Fulmer sought to clarify what occurred. "First of all, it wasn't some big pipe, which is how the story has changed" through the years, Fulmer said. "It was a stretching poll you use in workouts. Now, I'm not saying that was a good decision by Albert. It wasn't. But it wasn't like the whole thing was written. Look at me. If Albert had really wanted to go on the field, I wouldn't have been able to stop him.
"Did Albert have some maturity issues? Sure, he did. But he had the same maturity issues we would see in a lot of young men in the program in that age range. I've been in this game a long time, and I know the difference between a thug and a good person, and Albert is a good person."
Former Tennessee defensive line coach Dan Brooks, whom Haynesworth credits with much of his development, recruited Haynesworth and worked closely with him on and off the field. Brooks, who now holds the same position at Clemson, acknowledged that "there were some things you had to deal with" because of Haynesworth's intensity. "I love Albert, and Albert is a nice person off the field, but anyone who has coached Albert or been his teammate knows that he plays the game with passion, with a madness about him, really.
"In games and practice, there is always going to be the heat of the battle when you're competing. My whole thing with Albert, what I would talk to him about, is that when things happen, you just have to leave them right there on the field. If you can leave it right there, it's okay. . . . When those things would happen and we would have those kind of issues, I would always say to him, 'Hey, you've just got to learn from it and grow from it.' He did."A Problematic Past
Haynesworth was slow to become the type of player the Titans envisioned when they drafted him. He was criticized for not playing to his potential in his first few seasons, and his anger-management issues continued. In training camp with the Titans in 2003, Haynesworth reportedly kicked center Justin Hartwig in the chest during an altercation at practice. In the 2006 incident with Gurode -- for which the league handed down a five-game suspension and the Titans assigned him sessions with a counselor -- after the center's helmet came off, Haynesworth kicked and stomped on his face. Gurode received 30 stitches to close the gashes opened by Haynesworth's cleats.
"There was nothing I could do but just take responsibility for it, take a look at myself and just try to be" a better person, Haynesworth said. "Talking about it [with a counselor] really gave me a chance to open up. I look back at it and . . . it's almost like I wasn't the one doing it. It was all in, like, slow motion. I don't even remember a lot of what happened. But it was me. I did it, and it's hard to accept that you did something like that. It was just a really hard time. It was a really hard year for a lot of reasons."
In April 2006, Haynesworth's paternal grandmother, Edith Mae Haynesworth, died of cancer. Albert took her death very hard. "When we were kids, he would cling to her," Trena Addision, his cousin, said. "He wanted her to get a second opinion. He was willing to fly her anywhere and try to do anything to help her, but she didn't want him to do anything special for her. I know it upset him."
Haynesworth was determined to rebound. He had a career-high six sacks, leading AFC defensive tackles, during the 2007 season and set a new personal best with 8 1/2 sacks last season. "You have to respect what the man has accomplished, no doubt about it, but what he's worked to overcome is even more impressive," said Washington offensive coordinator Sherman Smith, who previously coached the Titans' running backs for 13 seasons. "You want to see people grow and learn when they make mistakes. Anyone who has been around Albert knows that he has."
Though he is better at controlling his emotions during games, Haynesworth continues to play with ferocity, even after serving his suspension. In February, Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn said of Haynesworth: "He is an angry football player. He plays the game mean. On game day, you'd better not try to talk to him."
Washburn, who lists Haynesworth as the smartest player he's coached, said: "Those coaches [in Washington] will figure that out real quick. He's not a player who you're gonna coach on the sidelines or have a real discussion with. About three hours before the game, he's a different person. There's no point in trying to communicate too much with him during a game."
Haynesworth said he has no plans to change and hopes Redskins fans do not judge him based on his past. "Sometimes I think about it," Haynesworth said. "You know that some people are going to look at you just as the player that kicked somebody in the head, but it's impossible to change some people's opinions. I know who I am, and I know where I came from, and that's what's important."
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.