Carroll freshman Jonathan Haden is the latest in the family pipeline of football talent

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 11:48 PM

Before the high school football season began, Jonathan Haden had five scholarship offers from BCS conference colleges.

Never mind that he's 14 years old, stands 5 feet 5 and weighs 150 pounds - and had never played a game in high school.

What the Carroll freshman did have is pedigree.

Haden is youngest of five brothers from a family that has created a pipeline of top-flight football talent, beginning with Joe, the 2006 All-Met Offensive Player of the Year at Friendly, who was selected eighth overall in April's NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns out of Florida, and continuing with Josh, a 2008 All-Met who signed with Boston College and Jordan, who signed with Florida after a 2009 All-Met season.

While it's too early to say which of the four is the most talented or will be the most successful, Jonathan's arrival is the most hyped.

"Of all my kids," said Joe Haden Sr., "the one with the biggest target on his back is Jonathan. Everyone's been waiting for him. I was more nervous in his first game at Carroll than I was at Joe's first game at Florida."

Jonathan didn't disappoint. The 150-pound freshman rushed for 94 yards and touchdowns of 16 and 24 yards to lead Carroll to a 28-0 victory over Coolidge on Aug. 27. It was a game more anticipated for Colts Coach Natalie Randolph's debut on the sidelines, but ultimately might have been affirmation for college recruiters' speculation about Haden's potential.

"Since I was 9, people always wanted to know what I was doing," said Jonathan, who returns to the field Friday at St. Mary's Ryken after Carroll had last week off. "Back when I was playing for [Marlow Heights Hurricanes] boys club, I was saying, 'I can't wait until I get to high school.' "

Neither could area coaches.

"I got almost as many calls for him as I did with my other sons for college," said Joe Haden Sr., running off a list of schools in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference from DeMatha to Good Counsel to St. John's to Gonzaga, among others. "If you name them in the D.C. area, I got a call from them."

Jonathan said he and his father last spring visited both DeMatha and Good Counsel, schools that have met in the past six WCAC finals. Both programs have appeared on national television multiple times in recent years.

Good Counsel would have made sense, even though the Olney school is far from the Hadens' Upper Marlboro home. Joe Sr. started an athletic training business in 2006, and said he works with about 10 current Good Counsel players, including quarterback Zach Dancel, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, tight end Vincent Croce and running back Wes Brown. Dancel's father, Bernie, who has donated generously to the Falcons' program, even made an intriguing offer to the Hadens.

"Bernie's great. He would have taken my son and let him stay with him," Joe Sr. said. "But the biggest thing is distance. I couldn't be that far away from him. And you've got to remember, he's 14 years old."

Dancel did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy said of Haden: "He's a legit player. We were definitely interested. He's got bloodlines and you'd love for him to get to your school. But I guess you can't get them all."

Ultimately, the Hadens chose Carroll, which is coming off a 2-8 season and has not won the Catholic league title since 1988. The reason they picked the school near North Capitol Street was simple - immediate playing time.

"You figure what college coaches are looking for," said Joe Sr., drawing upon his experience with his three oldest sons, "and what they want is [game] film. The biggest thing for him is to get on the field early, and by the end of his sophomore year at Carroll, he'll have 25 to 30 [scholarship] offers. Since he was 6, 7 years old, he's bought into what he needs to do to get to the next level."

The Hadens' approach to both high school football and the recruiting process begs plenty of questions about both. Most of them center around exposure: how to get it, how to use it and how to handle it.

Joe Sr. said he wanted his son to get on the field early in his career, and knew that would be difficult at either DeMatha or Good Counsel, where Haden would be buried on the depth chart this year.

DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor said he has reservations about putting freshmen, who are still developing physically, onto the varsity with much more mature, older teenagers.

"You're drastically risking injury," McGregor said. "You've got [older] kids benching over 300 pounds playing against him. I've never seen a freshman come close to that. There's plenty of time. It's not instant gratification. It's a journey.

"You can get someone enough exposure by his senior year. There's more exposure now between camps and combines than you'll ever get. It's easier now to get a kid a scholarship than ever before."

At Carroll, meantime, Haden got a chance right away. Against Coolidge, he displayed shiftiness in the open field and speed around the corner.

The Hadens also said Carroll Coach Rick Houchens was best prepared to handle all the attention about to be foisted upon Jonathan. They saw Houchens's experience when he was head coach at Eleanor Roosevelt in 2005 and handled the recruitment of Derrick Williams, the nation's most highly regarded prospect that year.

"I've been through all that with Derrick Williams," Houchens said. "There's nothing I haven't seen. What you see with Jonathan is that he's been around high-caliber people his whole life. He's not the typical freshman."

In a perfect world, Joe Sr. said, Jonathan will have a solid freshman year, as Carroll begins to improve. After his sophomore year, he will have advanced enough to where the following season, Carroll will be in contention for the WCAC title with Jonathan getting most of the credit for elevating the program.

"You want to go through some adversity before you get to the next level," Joe Sr. said. "But when Jonathan is in the 11th grade, they're going to be contenders for the WCAC. I truly believe that. He's going to play early. You rush for 80 yards against DeMatha as a ninth grader, you're going to get some attention."

Haden's name recognition alone has already brought him attention. Five schools from the ACC, SEC and Big East conferences, Joe Sr. said, told him Jonathan has a scholarship offer waiting. Schools cannot formally extend offers to football recruits until the beginning of the recruit's junior year.

"The word 'exposure' is so overblown, especially in today's world where there's so much exposure, it's impossible to miss a kid," said Allen Wallace, who founded SuperPrep magazine in 1985 and is now national recruiting editor for the Web site "Why do you need 25, 30 offers by the end of your sophomore year? Game film from that early on isn't that important. It's what have you done for me lately."

Already, the recruiting process has unfolded differently for Jonathan than it did for his older brothers.

"We drove thousands of miles [to camps and combines] with Joe and Josh, but with Jordan, we didn't have to do all those camps," Joe Sr. said. "With Jonathan, we don't have to do anything. The football stuff is taking care of itself. We just have to make sure he's humble, healthy and realizes how blessed he is."

The message has been received.

"I always had this mind-set that I was going to be a football player," he said. "My dream is to play in the NFL and that's what I'm going to do. Nothing can stop me."

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