A tribute to Dwayne Haskins, gone far too soon
Haskins had a cannon for an arm and a megawatt smile that lit up every locker room he entered. He was also more than just a football player.
I only saw Dwayne Haskins play in person once. It was a cool November day in 2017, and I was packed near the top of the south end of Michigan Stadium with dozens of fellow Ohio State fans. We all collectively freaked out when J.T. Barrett left in the third quarter with an injury — not J.T., not again against Michigan! — while the Buckeyes found themselves in the unfamiliar position of trailing the Wolverines.
Haskins had played in mop-up duty several times that year, but the redshirt freshman had never been in this situation before: in front of 110,00+ mostly hostile fans who were beyond desperate for a win in college football’s biggest rivalry. But we quickly realized there was nothing to worry about. Haskins, without so much as a bat of the eye, confidently led the Bucks down the field to retake the lead, one they would never relinquish.
Near the end of the game, when flocks of Michigan fans headed for the exits, I celebrated alongside my Buckeye brethren, not just for the present but also for the future. In that euphoric moment, it felt like Ohio State would never lose to Michigan again and that the quarterback position in the post-Barrett era was in excellent hands.
Of course, the former wasn’t true (or realistic), but the latter proved prescient. The next year, Haskins put together the best season by a quarterback in Ohio State *and* Big Ten history. For all the frustrations that the 2018 season brought — Urban Meyer’s suspension, a defense that couldn’t stop anything, another loss in the cursed land of West Lafayette — Haskins was spectacular. He completed 70 percent of his passes (an Ohio State record), for 4,831 yards (an Ohio State record) and 50 touchdowns (an Ohio State record). He threw for six touchdowns in two different games (one was against Michigan) and for five touchdowns in three other games (one was against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game). He was practically the only one who played competently in OSU’s lone loss that year, to Purdue. He almost single-handedly beat Maryland in an overtime game that could’ve been the team’s most embarrassing loss in Meyer’s tenure.
Haskins finished third in the Heisman voting and went on to win Rose Bowl MVP honors before declaring for the draft as a surefire first-rounder. Although he had only started one year at Ohio State, he left his mark on the school and on the quarterback position. Ohio State was no longer the place for run-first quarterbacks; it was a place for dynamic passers who could air it out and distribute the ball to a wide range of targets. Justin Fields followed in Haskins’ footsteps and became a Heisman finalist and first-round draft pick. C.J. Stroud is halfway there.
At Ohio State, Haskins came across as self-assured but not cocky. Someone who didn’t get rattled. A quarterback who believed in himself and the players around him. A kid who knew from a young age that he was going to suit up for the Scarlet and Gray one day.
I don’t pretend to know Haskins, but I always rooted for him. Like many others, I woke up Saturday morning to the devastating news that Haskins died after being hit by a truck. And it absolutely gutted me that someone who was so young — 24 years old, for goodness’ sake — and who still had so much promise was gone.
Recently, I lost someone in a similarly tragic accident. It was shocking and, frankly, unfair to have him snatched from this world when he should have been with us for many more years. But he had also lived a long life, one that was fulfilling and without regrets, and there was a small bit of a comfort in that. I can’t speak on how Haskins felt about his past and present, but I know he had, or should have had, a lot more time here on Earth.
I was mostly familiar with Haskins, the Football Player, but I never thought of him as *just* a football player. Nor did his lack of success in Washington define him, despite what some robotic and/or decrepit members of the NFL media had to say mere hours after his death. There were various reasons things didn’t work out for him there, but I think it boils down to this: getting drafted by his hometown team, a dysfunctional franchise at that, was too much, too soon for a 21-year-old. How he responded to that high-profile failure, however, demonstrated his character far more than how he reached that point.
Weeks after being let go by Washington, Haskins signed a reserve/futures contract with the Steelers. Even though he was just two years removed from being a first-round pick, he would have to earn his way to a roster spot. The chances of him starting, let alone appearing in a game in 2021 would be slim. But that’s the path he chose — to sit back and learn from teammates and a coach who were used to winning, and prove he still had what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.
He did just that and re-upped with the Steelers last month. In his year and change in Pittsburgh, Haskins found joy in playing football again and made an impact in the locker room and the community. So many of the tributes pouring in from his teammates, coaches, childhood friends, and even reporters talked about his infectious smile and his cheery personality. His unselfish nature. The love he had for his family and the love his family had for him.
Dwayne Haskins was a real person. All athletes are, and we should remember that when we talk about them, in life and in death.
Haskins was more than a first-round “bust” and more than the guy who beat out Joe Burrow for the starting job at Ohio State (you saw the numbers Haskins posted in 2018 — the OSU coaching staff did not make a mistake, despite what some who engage in revisionist history would like you to believe). He was the guy who immediately checked on Burrow when the rookie quarterback tore his ACL in a game against Washington.
Even with the fond memories I have of watching him play in college, Haskins was more than a legendary Ohio State quarterback. He was the guy who came to the assistance of a reporter who had fallen ill, the guy who would drop everything to check on a friend who lived hours away, the guy who had his pick of high schools and chose the one that would work best for his sister, the guy who was always looking out for others, in ways big and small.
He wasn’t perfect because none of us are, but he was, in the poignant words of former teammate Terry McLaurin, “a man trying to become the best version of himself”:
I’m heartbroken that we’ll never get to see what Haskins could have done next, on and off the field. Mostly, though, I’m heartbroken for his family and everyone who loved him. RIP, Dwayne Haskins. You left us far too soon.