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‘Dwayne loved big’: Haskins honored, remembered on weekend of services

Pallbearers carry Dwayne Haskins's casket at a memorial service Friday in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

On the field where he became a football star, the family of Dwayne Haskins held a vigil. On the 50-yard line, Haskins’s old No. 7 was spray-painted in blue and yellow, and next to that a helmet, a jersey and four flickering candles sat behind a red velvet rope. The video board read: “In loving memory . . . May 3, 1997 — April 9, 2022.”

On Sunday night at Bullis School in Potomac, Md., the stands filled one last time for Haskins, the quarterback who dazzled with an arm like no other, the 24-year-old who was struck and killed while crossing a South Florida highway this month.

As the sun set, the crowd watched video tributes and listened to family members, friends and coaches tell stories about the man nicknamed “Simba.” The speakers remembered great games — upsetting Georgetown Prep on an injured ankle in 2015, stepping in for an injured teammate to beat rival Michigan in 2017 — and how much Haskins did to show others he cared. Person after person highlighted his statistics, selflessness and smile.

“Dwayne loved big, and he gave time,” Ohio State Coach Ryan Day said.

This memorial service was the last in a weekend full of them. Haskins’s wife, Kalabrya, held the first Friday in Pittsburgh, where her husband had been playing for the Steelers, and his parents organized a celebration of life Saturday in Rockaway, N.J., not far from where he grew up.

This windy Sunday night in Potomac felt like communal grieving. Many attendees wore Haskins’s old jerseys, gear from his clothing line or T-shirts from the Haskins Family Foundation. Many teared up. Some — such as ex-NFL player Shawn Springs, a former Washington standout who helped convince Haskins to move from New Jersey to the D.C. area in high school — still seemed dazed that any of this could be real.

Maryland football coach Michael Locksley said he understood what the Haskins family was going through. His son Meiko, who was shot and killed in 2017, would have turned 30 on Sunday. Locksley acknowledged the loss never gets easier but noted that if you lift up good memories, it helps — a sentiment Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) shared in a letter.

“After the death of my father, I found comfort in the knowledge that, although death can end life, it cannot end love,” Booker wrote to Haskins’s family. “Although no words can bring you solace, I know Dwayne’s love will sustain all of those knew him — and that your love, and his love, will carry you throughout these difficult days.”

The Washington Commanders, who drafted Haskins in 2019, had a strong presence at the vigil, including co-owners Daniel and Tanya Snyder, team president Jason Wright, senior adviser Doug Williams, quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, defensive end Chase Young, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and offensive lineman Keith Ismael.

Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who appeared in two tribute videos catching passes from Haskins at Ohio State, spoke at the service Saturday, and on Sunday, the Haskins family shared a letter that Grace McLaurin, Terry’s mother, sent Haskins’s mother, Tamara.

“This is how Terry Sr. and I will remember [Dwayne]: He had a mega-smile that could be seen from far off as he approached you,” Grace McLaurin wrote. “And when I had the opportunity to greet him from time to time, he’d lean in with a hug or a handshake and softly say, ‘How are you, Mrs. McLaurin?’ Words are inadequate during this difficult time.”

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Kalabrya Haskins attended Sunday’s service in a black-and-yellow letterman’s jacket with “HASKINS” across the back. She and her family sat in the bleachers rather than on the field with Haskins’s family and friends.

Day, who was Haskins’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State, said he remembered the first time he had Haskins over for dinner. Haskins played catch with his son, RJ, in the yard for 45 minutes — even though he didn’t know RJ well.

Day said he asked RJ if he wanted to come to the service. RJ, who Day said had hardly taken off his Haskins jersey since he learned of his death, declined by pointing to what Haskins had written on it: “Keep working lil bro!”

“It’s been said before that some men don’t fear death; they fear being irrelevant or insignificant,” Day said. “I can tell you something right now: Dwayne Haskins left a legacy behind. He was relevant; he was significant; he had an impact on so many people. … Ohio State and our program is forever in debt.”

Haskins’s parents, who spoke at Saturday’s service, did not speak Sunday. They stood behind their daughter, Tamia, as she gave a powerful, tearful speech. According to family lore, Dwayne asked God for a baby sister before his parents had Tamia, and the siblings were close growing up.

In adolescence, Tamia said, she and Dwayne used to say they would give up everything, including their careers, to see the other succeed. She wanted to be an actress; Dwayne wanted to play quarterback at Ohio State and reach the NFL. Dwayne had accomplished both of those goals.

“Unfortunately, Dwayne won’t physically be here to see what I accomplish,” she said. “I have a show coming up in May, and I wish that he could see it. I keep reflecting on the productions that I was a part of at Bullis, and whenever Dwayne could make it, he would always be in the front row, screaming, ‘That’s my sister!’ I had to explain to him you’re not allowed to do that. It’s not a stadium. But you know … ,” she laughed.

“Although I wish he was physically here, I imagine him in heaven smiling down at me, which is the best spot in the house. Dwayne, you will have a front-row view of me building my own legacy, honoring you through everything that I create and perform. I can hear you screaming, ‘That’s my sister!’ from heaven. And now you can be as loud as you want. Until I see you again, please save me a seat — because I have so much to share with you.”

Her voice wavered.

“I love you so much, bud.”