Cin’Quan Haney’s Ohio State football career consisted of one play.
And it didn’t go well.
Of the 189 OSU student-athletes, including 10 football players, who received diplomas at spring commencement Sunday, Haney’s playing career might have been the most modest of all of them.
But his overall achievements at Ohio State might have been surpassed by none of them.
Haney overcame a difficult upbringing in inner-city Dayton to graduate with a degree in physics, a notoriously challenging major. He also found time for various extracurricular activities, all the while becoming one of the most-respected members of the football team despite his lack of playing time.
Next week, he will start a career at Vencore, a private defense contractor in Virginia that serves, among other entities, the U.S. intelligence community. If the Ohio State football program’s ultimate mission is to develop well-rounded men and not just football players, Haney is an embodiment of it.
“My nickname for him was ‘Obama,’” said Ryan Stamper, Ohio State’s player development director. “I really think he’s a guy who can run for president one day.”
A tough start
Haney grew up in the Five Oaks neighborhood just north of downtown Dayton with his mom, Cynthia, and sisters Cinquianna and Cinnquinniece.
“My mom got real creative with the names,” Cin’Quan said.
From birth, little came easily to Cin’Quan. He was diagnosed with a respiratory virus infection as a newborn and one of his lungs collapsed. He recovered from that, but at age 2 he wasn’t talking clearly. His doctor discovered that his adenoids had swelled to the size of golf balls and impaired his hearing.
“He was talking like he was hearing things — muffled,” Cynthia said. “Once they cleared all that out, he started talking and has never stopped.
“I’ll be honest: I thought something was wrong, like my baby’s not going to be the brightest. But he’s smart as a whip. He’s always excelled no matter what.”
There were plenty of no-matter-whats. He said his father, Benny Coleman, has been incarcerated on drug convictions for most of Cin’Quan’s life. His neighborhood was dangerous enough that Cynthia rarely let him play outside without close supervision.
Haney was a talented athlete, and Cynthia wanted him to play sports to stay busy. But academics were his passion. At Chaminade-Julienne High School, he was a member of the National Honor Society and played football only reluctantly.
“I didn’t really have an interest in football, but I played it so I could be with my friends,” he said.
When he enrolled at Ohio State, he had no thoughts of playing anything except intramural sports. But after his first semester, his late stepfather, Willie Mitchell, urged him to try out for the football team. So did some of his high school friends, including Malik Zaire, then the quarterback at Notre Dame.
Haney was ambivalent but decided to give it a shot. A week after tryouts, he got an email saying he’d made the team.
It wasn’t easy at first. The Buckeyes were coming off the 2014 College Football Playoff championship. Haney, a cornerback, was unsure if he could compete with scholarship players.
In truth, his fears weren’t unfounded.
“When I first saw him run, I thought, ‘This kid won’t make it,’” Stamper said. “Awkward running, awkward moving. It was awful.
“He had some speed and he had some size. He had toughness. But his backpedal and change of direction, it was the worst thing you’ve ever seen.”
Haney didn’t immediately accept his role.
“Yeah, there were times, earlier when I first got on the team, when I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I putting up with this? I don’t need to be here,’” he said.
But Haney stuck with it, gradually improved his technique and developed into an important player on the scout team, whose job is to run opponents’ plays during the week in practice.
“At Ohio State, you have to know you have a role on the team,” he said. “Even though you may not be in the position you want to be in, you’re in the position that you’re in for a reason. You’re significant to the team for a reason.
“Once you realize what your purpose and role is on the team, it makes it easier to connect with the team. If you’re always like, ‘I don’t understand what’s going on with the program’ or ‘Things aren’t going right for me,’ there’s always going to be that pullback, and you won’t be able to build that relationship (with teammates).”
In his first 36 games, Haney never left the sidelines. But in the next-to-last regular-season game in 2017, Haney was summoned into action to block on a punt return with three minutes left in what would be a 52-14 win over Illinois.
“I was on the sideline and they were calling my name and I was like, ‘Why are they calling my name?’” he said.
Rain was pouring and Haney was nervous. It showed. Haney unwisely got too close to the ball as it rolled to a stop. If he’d touched it, Illinois could have recovered and regained possession, something special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs and coach Urban Meyer made quite clear to Haney as he came off the field.
“I got a few words from coach Coombs and coach Meyer after that play,” he said with a laugh. “It wasn’t the best job, I have to say that.”
And thus began and ended the playing career of Ohio State’s Moonlight Graham.
By the time Ohio State did its video review of the game, Haney’s near faux pas had already become fodder for jokes.
“A lot of laughs,” receiver C.J. Saunders said of the viewing of Haney’s not-so-shining moment.
But the Buckeyes were able to laugh because Haney had become such a respected teammate.
“He cares so much about each individual guy on the team,” said Saunders, a walk-on recently rewarded with a scholarship. It’s one thing to ask how someone’s doing and continue with your day. He never had a problem with diving deeper and really seeing how you’re doing and help cheer you up. That’s something I can never pay him back for.”
Football helped GPA
For every Ohio State player — walk-on or scholarship — football is a full-time job with practice, film study, etc. To play football as a physics major is a monumental task.
Haney enrolled intending to major in engineering, but he wanted an even-bigger challenge.
“If you can major in something as hard as physics, you can do many things that you want outside of physics,” he said.
His courses included electrodynamics, quantum mechanics and interferometry. “I was a pretty smart kid in college, and I couldn’t imagine doing that,” Stamper said.
Yet Haney said he succeeded academically not despite his football responsibilities but because of them. The academic resources available to him as an athlete enabled him to have a significantly higher grade-point average after he started playing football. He had a 2.3 before he joined the team and at least a 3.0 every grading period afterward.
“Whenever I would have a problem with a class, I would talk to my adviser and got help,” he said. “That tutoring kept me focused.”
He named Andrew George as a particularly helpful tutor and cited the Real Life Wednesdays, started by Meyer and run by Stamper, as invaluable. The program is designed to get players ready for the business world. Last summer, Haney worked as a paid intern at Vencore.
Stamper said players are required to stay in town for summer workouts, but Haney’s internship opportunity was so good that the Buckeyes gave their blessing to him to take it. He was offered a job last year and will start full time with Vencore on Monday.
Asked what he’ll be doing, Haney took a long pause.
“I’m going to work with them as a systems engineer,” he said. “I’m not really sure how much I can say.”
Somehow, Haney also found time for other pursuits. He ran a write-in campaign for undergraduate student government president. Frustrated that he had trouble communicating with deaf people he encountered, he learned American Sign Language. He joined the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
Conversed with some deaf fans after beating that team up north. pic.twitter.com/rLy9hPGJV2— Cin'Quan Haney (@CinQuanHaney) November 27, 2016
Haney also got particular fulfillment as a volunteer with a Franklin County Children’s Services program in which he mentored high school seniors.
“Being an athlete puts you on a different platform in our society,” Haney said. “People look up to athletes. It’s good to have athletes as a mentor, especially from Ohio State, to have an impact on the younger community.”
That Haney has done, even if his own playing career was over in an instant. Ohio State players have told him that they want to work for him one day.
“The mark he’s left, maybe not on the football field but in the locker room, and the imprint he’s left on the team in leading guys, it’s been incredible,” Saunders said.
On Sunday, Haney received the diploma for which he’d worked so hard. Cynthia Haney was in the crowd, beaming with pride.
“I just felt a sense of relief that he’s not going to be a statistic from the streets,” she said. “You can rise above your circumstances. He did have obstacles and he chose the right route, and I’m proud of that. I raised him, but it was all his doing.”