Walking a Path Set by His Mom

Despite Detours, Haynesworth Had Model for Success

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.

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