Tracing the roots of Dwayne Haskins' football journey

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Dwayne Haskins will be top pocket passer in draft (1:25)

Former Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins has a prototypical stature and all the tools to be a successful pro. Will he go to the Giants at No. 6? (1:25)

The long-ago memory hasn't faded. Dwayne Haskins was 10 years old. Driving rain. Best friend playing receiver. A Pop Warner football game against their New Jersey-area rivals. Trailing 7-6.

It was time.

"We need to move the ball and we were like, 'dang,' so we give it a try," said Rutgers receiver Mohamed Jabbie, Haskins' former teammate. "Dwayne throws me the best deep ball ever. I catch it right over my shoulder. The defender is right there. I will always remember that. It won the game."

And it stuck with both players.

"I threw a fade route to Mo and Mo took it to the house," Haskins said. "It was like a 25-, 30-yard throw. I didn't have a crazy strong arm back then, but he took it to the house."

That was the first year Haskins started playing quarterback, having abandoned his fullback and defensive-end duties. "I wanted to be more involved," he said.

Two things evident back then remain true: Haskins dazzled with his arm, and the early work he put into his game was paying off.

By the time the 2018 college football season began, Haskins was more than prepared to be the man. The Ohio State quarterback might have been a first-time starter, but he had spent the previous decade building to this moment. A year ago at this time, Haskins was working to beat out Joe Burrow for the starting job. He did. Then he flourished, throwing 50 touchdown passes and becoming a top-10 prospect for the NFL draft.

"I knew before the season I had the talent to play in the NFL," Haskins said at the scouting combine. "I know I'm a franchise quarterback."

Haskins later admitted he knew he would head to the NFL after three years of college. His first two seasons were spent behind J.T. Barrett, learning how to be a leader.

"He came a long way," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said, "in a short period of time."

It was like that in high school, too. Haskins didn't receive a scholarship offer until after his junior year -- from SMU. Then his status exploded after a strong showing at the Elite 11 camp the summer before his senior season. Haskins always emerged. The team that drafts him later this month will bank on him repeating that in the NFL. At one point he was viewed as the draft's top quarterback prospect, a position Kyler Murray now occupies.

Some teams aren't sold -- mainly because he started only 14 games -- and feel he'll have to sit at least a year. Even Day said, "I was hoping to have at least one more year with him. We were really going to go from there."

Haskins isn't a unanimous slam-dunk prospect. Still, he went from an inexperienced player to a Heisman finalist. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay project him going No. 6 overall to the New York Giants in their latest mock drafts.

The beginning

At the Darin Slack Academy camp in fifth grade, Haskins tested at the level of a 10th grader when it came to reading defenses. He attended camps and worked on drills with his father, Dwayne Sr., who often focused on avoiding pressure in the pocket.

"That kid was obsessed with football," said Jabbie, whose NFL-player uncle, Mohamed Sanu, also worked with Haskins. "He had a passion for the game. We were going outside and running routes like we were preparing for a college football season. Football and school were his two priorities. He was a football genius and a school nerd."

Former NFL cornerback Shawn Springs watched a middle-school Haskins star during a camp. Springs said he saw Haskins throw the ball "50 yards ... I'm not just talking about throwing it far, but accurately."

Springs developed a relationship with Haskins' father and would occasionally work with Haskins. He'd watch tape of his games and offer advice. Sometimes he'd see a play, provide a tip and then see that Haskins had made the adjustment himself in-game.

"Just basic stuff you'd tell an eighth grader, 'You've got to put more air on it when you throw the seam,'" Springs said, "and the next thing you know he's throwing it down the seam and he hits him right on stride.

"He would ask me what Tom Brady was like and, 'How do I have to work?' He would soak it all up, 'Yep, OK, I get it, OK, next lesson.'"

In July 2011, Haskins, then listed at 5-foot-6, 150 pounds, played in the USA vs. the World game in Canton, Ohio. The players capped a week of practice with a game. Bryson Spinner was coaching for another USA football team at the event but noticed Haskins.

"The first time I saw Dwayne throw the ball I said, 'That kid has something special coming off his hand,'" said Spinner, who played quarterback at Virginia before transferring to Richmond. "He was a short, chubby kid. He was one of the youngest guys there, but he did not look like one of the younger guys there when the ball came out of his hand."

Another childhood friend, Zack Hawkins, was at that camp. He remembers one play Haskins kept telling them to "run it again; run it again; run it again."

"His attention to detail as an eighth grader was ridiculous," Hawkins said. "We did not move on from something until he got it exactly right. ... That desire carried over into everything he did."

High school

Midway through his freshman year of high school, Haskins, seeking a higher level of competition, and his family moved to Maryland so he could play at Bullis School in Potomac. The father of its football coach, Pat Cilento, had coached Springs in high school basketball. There remains an NFL connection today to the school: The son of Redskins owner Dan Snyder is a sophomore football player there and is friendly with Haskins.

Cilento remembered seeing Haskins, then about 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, throw for the first time that winter.

"The first thing you saw was how the ball jumped off his hands," Cilento said. "It was like, 'Wow, this kid is special.'"

By this point, Haskins had already worked with multiple quarterbacks coaches, including George Whitfield. Haskins would carry a football in his backpack at Bullis, sometimes bringing it out in the hallway. School officials eventually asked him to leave the ball at home or in a locker.

Nobody told him to change his ways on the field. Cilento said Haskins would arrive early for sessions with receivers so he could perform footwork drills. If Haskins didn't like the way he threw a ball on a certain route, he would keep the receivers after practice.

"He'd sit there and throw it until he liked it, and that could be hours and the receivers would hate him," Cilento said. "He really paid attention to his mechanics."

Hawkins said, "We would just run posts after practice and he kept hitting the same exact spot and we'd keep running it until he hit that spot."

Impromptu throwing sessions at other times of the year helped as well. One group text from Haskins often prompted 20 others to gather -- including at times Stefon Diggs, then a college receiver at Maryland.

There's more: Three or four times a week, Haskins would work with Spinner. Sometimes they would meet at Spinner's facility in Tysons Corner, Virginia -- about 30 minutes from Bullis with no traffic -- or at the one in Columbia, Maryland, about 45 minutes away. Haskins and his dad -- and sometimes his mom and sister -- would arrive sometime after 9 p.m. for a session that would typically last an hour or two. Or more.

"There were definitely times I'd look at the clock and be like, 'My fiancée is about to kill me,'" Spinner said.

They'd work on Haskins' base; his footwork; using his entire body. Spinner wanted him to be "comfortable with the uncomfortable." They worked three to four times a week for the entire year.

"He had a different grind, a different type of focus," Spinner said. "After his first six or seven workouts, I would tell my closest friends that he's got Sunday potential. He was a sophomore in high school."

It wasn't just the physical side.

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Haskins feeling good after pro day

Dwayne Haskins breaks down his pro day workout, the kind of offense he wants to play in and why he's ready for the NFL despite only 14 career starts.

"He would call me and be like, 'Coach, I'm watching the NFL Network and I saw such and such coverage. What do you think?'" Spinner said. "He was asking questions pros would ask. He was mature beyond his years when it came to football IQ. ... He came through the 7-on-7 circuit and we're playing against other five-star kids and big-name guys in the secondary and Dwayne is putting the ball in places [defenders] couldn't do anything about it."

By the time he was a senior, Haskins was calling his own plays. Once, on a fourth-and-8 against Episcopal High School, Haskins bypassed a throw designed for the right side, instead throwing a swing pass to the left that resulted in a touchdown.

"I said, 'Why?' and he said, 'The linebacker was tucked in and I thought we could beat him there,' and he did," Cilento said. "You could let him control it; he knows what he's doing. ... We gave him total control of the offense. With him everything was an RPO (run-pass option); he could throw it at any time. Sometimes you'd pull your hair out -- fourth-and-1 and he throws a quick screen. We got a first down. He was that kind of kid; very smart player."

As Haskins matured, his coaches altered the offense. They threw more vertical passes. They ran no-huddle. And they trusted him completely. On a third-and-goal with 12 seconds left in his conference championship game against Georgetown Prep, Haskins, who drove the team 75 yards in 91 seconds despite hobbling on a sprained ankle, took a snap on the right side and threw an out all the way to the other sideline. Touchdown.

Haskins wasn't perfect: Receivers would sometimes have to wait on deep throws, for example. But he displayed a willingness to make throws others wouldn't -- or couldn't. Cilento then shows a highlight from another game: a seam pass on which the receiver has a defensive back on his outside hip and a linebacker sprinting to his inside.

"He makes those receivers look very good," Cilento said. "Most high school quarterbacks don't make those throws. Too gun-shy. It's not a mindset, but a competitiveness and confidence."

Spinner said, "He always carried himself as confident and sure of himself and knew he belonged. He comes from a strong family background."

College

Haskins told this story a few times: As a high school sophomore, he met Day when the future Ohio State coach was a Boston College assistant. Day asked him about protections; Haskins responded with basic answers. He later admitted having no clue about all that protections entailed.

"He just didn't have a lot of exposure to much of any of that," Day said. "To his credit, he picked it up quickly. He's a smart guy. He's a sponge."

But it took time, and Haskins pointed to one moment in mop-up duty against Illinois in 2017 that taught him a valuable lesson.

"I was just a young guy trying to get game reps," he said. "The very first play I didn't make the right protection call and I got sacked. I took it serious ever since."

That meant more film study; Haskins said he'd watch 10 extra hours of film per week during the season.

"When you look at the way he played down the stretch," Day said, "a lot of that was because of his understanding of protections, understanding when the ball was supposed to come out and understanding game management."

In last season's final four games -- against Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern and Washington -- Haskins threw for a combined 1,551 yards, 17 touchdowns and two interceptions.

"He's a rhythm player," Day said. "When he gets into a rhythm, he's as good as I've been around."

Flash to Haskins' most dominating game of the 2018 season: a 62-39 victory against Michigan and its top-ranked defense. He threw for 396 yards and six touchdowns and received a Heisman invite to New York. The Wolverines rarely pressured Haskins, but on two plays they did. Both resulted in Haskins runs of 9 yards. On one, Haskins told the Big Ten Network that, based on film study, he anticipated a blitz from the wide side by a linebacker and the middle linebacker. But the blitz actually came from the shortside cornerback and linebacker.

Haskins quickly recognized the issue, knew he had no time in the pocket and he took off running.

"He did not make a bad situation worse," Day said. "That's important."

Quarterbacks coach Quincy Avery, who first worked with Haskins in high school, prepped him for the combine and his pro day. They'd watch film together on a 70-inch TV; Haskins would also watch on his iPad. They went over all his plays; they watched other quarterbacks. Haskins worked out at times with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Haskins worked four days a week for six hours with Avery, with four hours devoted to throwing sessions emphasizing footwork drills. Another two hours were spent on lifting and agility work. The film studies came after.

"The quickness of the processing has changed," Avery said, "how quickly he sees things like the front, the linebacker shift and the safety tilt. He puts those things together very quickly."

The next step will be to repeat his success in the NFL. There's no guarantee. Like in his other steps, that success might take time. But Haskins put himself in this spot for one reason.

"He put in massive hours of work," Avery said, "to get to where he wants to be."

Daniel Murphy contributed to this story.