By Ryan S. Clark
Anyone unsure of James Haynes’ prospects for playing college football need only to see the three 10-gallon sized bins filled with letters from colleges around the nation.
Anyone unsure of his intelligence need only to learn of his 3.9 grade-point-average or ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube in 45 seconds.
Anyone unsure of Haynes’ humility need only to listen to him talk about being named most-recruited football player in West Orange-Stark’s 31-year history.
“It’s cool to be going through all of this but I do not try to build it up,” Haynes said. “These guys have watched a lot of film on me so they know how I run and do other things. So when they tell me what they like about me, I wonder, ‘Are they really talking about me?’”
The high school football season doesn’t begin for another two months, but Haynes stands in the tug-of-war that makes him the most recruited high school player from Southeast Texas this summer.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Haynes has received scholarship offers from 13 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including national powers Florida and Oklahoma.
Texas-based schools on Haynes’ list are Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Houston and Southern Methodist. The University of Texas has not made an offer, he said.
The rest of the offering field includes Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
The volume of scholarship offers outnumbers the amount other Southeast Texans currently are mulling.
WO-S teammate Trey Franks has offers from seven schools, according to recruiting Web site Rivals.com.
Lumberton linebacker Anthony Beard has five offers, the Web site said.
Colleges are recruiting Haynes to play safety, the main position he plays at WO-S.
WO-S football coach Dan Hooks has coached 10 players who played NCAA Division I football, three of whom played in the National Football League, he said. None, Hooks said, received as much interest from colleges as Haynes.
Further illustrating Haynes’ unique status is the fact that he is the first to be actively recruited by a Pacific-10 Conference college in WO-S history.
Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh cemented that distinction when he personally offered Haynes a scholarship during a January visit to the high school, which sits nearly 2,000 miles from Stanford’s Palo Alto, Calif., campus.
Haynes has a 42-inch standing vertical leap and enough speed to be on the WO-S state championship track and field team last spring.
“He can run, he’s fast, he can jump real high and do all the stuff that makes him highly recruitable,” Hooks said of Haynes, who covers 40 yards in 4.31 seconds. “It’s like once word gets out on a guy, all of a sudden he becomes the No. 1 item.”
The recruiting drumbeat around Haynes began two summers ago, when he was the only sophomore invited to a Texas Tech camp filled with juniors and seniors.
Haynes impressed more college coaches with solid camp performances during the summer before his junior season. As a junior, he was a first-team all-District 21-3A wide receiver and second-team defensive back. He will only play in the defensive backfield this season, WO-S defensive coordinator Cornell Thompson said.
A steady flow of letters from colleges began in September and scholarship offers arrived in January. Although he has many options, Haynes said he will not announce a college decision until two weeks before the high school season. Many high school seniors, however, wait until after the season to make a decision. No decisions are binding until Feb. 3, the first day a senior can sign a letter of intent to play college football.
As impressed college coaches are about Haynes, there’s more to him than what is done on the gridiron.
Haynes expresses pride in being able to play piano, a talent he picked up after he found out a middle school soccer teammate played the instrument.
Haynes also has several academic goals. He is taking summer school courses in Nederland so that he can begin taking college-level courses this fall. After college, he hopes to play in the National Football League. If that plan doesn’t work, Haynes said he will study to be a physical therapist or an orthopedic surgeon.
All that is enough to please Haynes’ mother, Suzanne.
“I was up at 3 a.m., and I just thought about how proud I am of James,” said Suzanne, who shares an Orange home with her husband, James Sr., and their three children, James Jr. and twin sisters who also attend WO-S. “All of this has taken us by surprise.”
About the only challenge Haynes faces this season — aside from deciding where he wants to play collegiately — is becoming the kind of leader his coaches want him to be.
“Athletically, he’s got all the tools, but we want to see more leadership out him this year,” said Thompson, who has been at WO-S for 26 seasons.
Thompson said Haynes started showing flashes of leadership during a playoff game last season. Haynes had dislocated a shoulder, but he had it reset and went back into the game.
“Hey, around here, you have to work hard,” Haynes said. “Because it’s like (coach Thompson) is always telling us, ‘One bad day can cost you your spot.’”
For now, Haynes will work to keep his spot by sticking with the team’s off-season workout program. His mail box will continue to get filled with letters from colleges.
And he’ll figure out a path he hopes will lead him to the next phase in his life.
“When I was little, I remember seeing Earl Thomas get letters, and when he’d open his locker they just fell out,” Haynes said in reference to a former WO-S defensive back now at the University of Texas. “I always said that I wanted that to be me. The first two times it happened, it was great. When it happens now, I just wish someone was around to clean up the mess.”
Sports | June 28, 2009 | Page 1D, 6D