Dwayne made the choice easier. They considered schools with powerhouse football teams — St. John’s, DeMatha, Good Counsel — but Dwayne wanted to attend the Bullis School in Potomac. It was a simple decision, he said. Bullis had less of a football tradition, but he liked its academic profile, and it had an arts program perfect for his younger sister, Tamia.
“So I’d be able to be there for her every day,” Haskins said.
Thursday night, about six years after his family moved to Maryland, will mark a milestone for Haskins, both a culmination and another beginning. Haskins almost certainly will be chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. In another telling choice, he will not be present in Nashville. He will be at a draft party, with his family.
Over the past month, Haskins keeps hearing the same question: Where do you think you will end up? He visited the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins, all franchises in need of a quarterback holding a top-15 pick. He broke down film with Giants Coach Pat Shurmur, listened to Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller’s counsel while snowed in in Denver and picked the brain of Washington personnel head Doug Williams. Representatives from 11 teams met him at the NFL combine, and the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins sent officials to interview him at Ohio State.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Haskins said. “Just give me a ball and let me spin it.”
It would be a mild surprise if Haskins remained on the board for the Redskins at No. 15. And if he’s there, it would be an even bigger surprise if the franchise passed on a prototypical NFL passer who went to high school with owner Daniel Snyder’s son. In his only season as Ohio State’s starter, Haskins completed 70 percent of his passes, threw for 4,831 yards, recorded 50 touchdown passes in 14 games and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting. His lack of experience may be a knock against him for some teams, but what he produced in limited time catapulted him to franchise-quarterback status.
“His accuracy is rare,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “He can put the ball places and drop it in where a lot of guys can’t. … Really, just the inexperience is part of it — there are times where he doesn’t anticipate things, and I think it’s a lot based on his game reps. But he delivered when they needed him.”
The months leading up to the draft are essentially an extended job interview, and prospects rarely stray from standard talking points. In that way, Haskins has subtly stood out. At a news conference at the combine in February, Haskins proclaimed with nonchalant confidence, “Football’s always been part of what I do, not who I am.” In an hour-long interview last week, he expanded on his point.
“I play football, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t define me,” Haskins said. “I’m more than just a football player. I do more than just football. Yes, it’s a big part of my life. Faith, family, who I am as a person, what I do off the field, my friends, my time, my dogs — it’s more than just football.”
It is unquestionably a refreshing outlook, but NFL decision-makers regard prospects with a healthy view of work-life balance not with appreciation but suspicion. Haskins has responded to teams’ questions about his outlook with honesty.
“I always tell them, my off-the-field life will never get involved with my on-the-field life,” Haskins said. “Yes, I’m a football player. But I’m a person as well. I’m going to prepare like hell to be a great football player. That’s what I do, that’s what I work for, and that’s what I prepare for. But when I go home, I’m not a football player no more. I’m just Dwayne. When I’m at the house with my friends, I’m just Dwayne. So I’m conscious that I’m a football player, but that’s not the only thing that’s going on in my life.”
‘When I play, I see the whole field’
Haskins is naturally detail-orientated, a trait he said was passed down from Dwayne Sr., whom some friends nicknamed “Logistics.” He could tell he took the game more seriously than other kids his age. He loved how you could practice a play all week, then see the results in a game.
“I always wanted to be able to know what I was doing and know how to do it,” Haskins said.
By age 10, Haskins could read defenses and call no-huddle plays. He studied Madden video-game playbooks like textbooks. In one version of the game, which came out before Haskins reached his teens, a cone of light represented a quarterback’s vision. Some quarterbacks could “see” only a sliver of the field. When the digital Peyton Manning played, almost the entire screen alighted. During real football games, Haskins said, he felt like the video-game Manning.
“When I play, I see the whole field,” Haskins said. “It moves in slow motion. I just see everything before it happens. Like ‘Equalizer’ or something.”
When he was 12, Haskins attended a football camp in Hillsborough, N.J., near his home. Also in attendance was Shawn Springs, an NFL cornerback whose son lived in the area and also went to the camp. Springs noticed Haskins heaving passes half the field and throwing perfectly timed out routes.
“He looked like a 10th-grader out there with seventh-graders,” Springs said.
Springs took an interest and sought out Dwayne Sr. in the bleachers. (It was not difficult to pick out Haskins’s dad: “We were the only two brothers in the stands,” Springs said, laughing.) They struck up a conversation, exchanged numbers and vowed to keep in touch. Eventually, he suggested to Haskins Sr. that Dwayne look into moving to the D.C. area.
Haskins enrolled at Bullis midway through his freshman year, after spending three months at a charter school, he said. As a sophomore, Haskins beat out an older quarterback for Bullis’s starting position. As a junior, Bullis Coach Patrick Cilento did something he had not before and has not done since: He switched to a spread-out offense to take advantage of Haskins’s passing ability.
“He saw the field, and it was so slow for him,” Cilento said. “Just to have that kind of talent in your building, it’s eye-opening. He was mature way beyond his years.”
‘He was made for the NFL’
When Haskins arrived in Columbus, he told Ryan Day, then Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, that he had three goals: Win the Heisman Trophy, lead the Buckeyes to a national championship, and become a first-round draft pick.
“Well,” Day replied, “we got some work to do.”
Haskins kept private another aim: He planned to accomplish it all in three years, the minimum a player must stay in school before entering the draft.
“I wanted to find a school where I got at least two years of experience and play and go to the NFL,” Haskins said. “I thought that was Ohio State, but that didn’t work out like that.”
Haskins redshirted his first season, and during his second year, he became the backup to J.T. Barrett, a team captain and one of the most decorated players in Ohio State history. Like many other top-shelf quarterback recruits stuck behind incumbents, Haskins considered transferring.
“The first two years of college were definitely a rough time,” Haskins said. “Those thoughts definitely came across my head, as far as leaving and wanting to find another opportunity.”
Haskins shared his frustrations with his parents, his sister, his girlfriend and personal coaches but never teammates or reporters. At practice, he focused to make sure every pass was perfect, every read was correct.
“When I did go against the first-team defense, I lit ‘em up,” Haskins said.
When Haskins earned his chance as a redshirt sophomore, he still harbored aspirations of turning professional after the season. In Day and Coach Urban Meyer’s system, with a wicked collection of players to throw to, Haskins started making his case. In his first four starts, he passed for more than 300 yards three times. In his sixth, he threw six touchdowns and racked up 455 yards.
“As a sophomore and a first-year starter, I didn’t think it was realistic,” Day said. “As the season went on, it was like every time he threw a touchdown pass, I was excited, but then at the same time, it was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ ”
Haskins and his family made it a rule not to discuss NFL prospects. But by midseason, they could sense the possibility of leaving early for the NFL. In a defining stretch of late-season games against Maryland, Michigan and Northwestern, Haskins averaged 433 yards while throwing 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“By the ninth game, we didn’t know what round,” Haskins Sr. said. “By the last three, you could see he was made for the NFL.”
‘When you prepare, there’s no reason to be scared’
Day uses many superlatives to describe his former quarterback, but one stood out for the rarity with which it comes out of a football coach’s mouth. Haskins, he said, possesses a “sweet spirit.” He befriended security guards and dining-room workers at Ohio State’s facility. Day hosted team dinners on Thursday nights, and during those meals, Haskins struck up a relationship with Day’s son and two daughters, ages 5, 8 and 10, holding half-hour conversations with them. He told them about a Halloween movie he and Tamia used to watch together, and it became their favorite, too.
“Most college kids wouldn’t even think about doing that,” Day said. “He’s got compassion. He cares about people. Relationships matter to him. He understands emotional intelligence.”
Haskins seems more excited to discuss his sister’s talent than his own. “Tamia’s big time,” Haskins said, before he and his parents described her as a combination of Melissa McCarthy, Oprah Winfrey and Viola Davis.
Growing up, Haskins would read other parts as Tamia practiced her lines. He helps her calm down before performances using his experience in football, telling her, “When you prepare, there’s no reason to be scared.” During his bye week this year, Haskins surprised Tamia by coming home and attending one of her plays.
“She wants to be great because of me,” Haskins said. “I want to be great because of her. I motivate her. She motivates me. She wants to be like her big brother, in her aspect of what she does. I want her to have somebody she can look up to.”
Last week, as Haskins ate the last bites of a salad on an outdoor mall patio in Gaithersburg, a stranger walked past and noticed Haskins, sitting there in a long-sleeved, red Ohio State shirt.
“Good luck in the draft, man,” he said to Haskins.
“Thanks, man,” Haskins replied, pointing at the stranger.
Haskins turned back to the table. In a week, he would enter a demanding, callous profession, in a league that will try to change him. He understands what is coming, and he is confident it will not.
“I’ve watched a lot of people get caught up into the hype, get caught up into trying to be famous, get caught up in the money, get caught up in trying to please other people,” Haskins said. “And they lose themselves. I’m always going to stay true to my roots, true to what I’ve been raised to believe in and what my values are. Once I stop doing that, then I stop being myself. And I don’t want to do that.”