Shawn Springs attended a seventh-grade passing camp in Hillsborough, New Jersey, about seven years ago for his son, Skyler, when he noticed a pudgy kid slinging the ball.
“I was like, ‘This kid can throw it a mile,’ ” said Springs, the former star Ohio State cornerback who had a stellar 13-year NFL career. “This guy is throwing the hell out of the ball. Holy smoke, who is this kid?”
The kid was Dwayne Haskins Jr.
>> Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
With Joe Burrow announcing his decision this week to transfer from Ohio State, Haskins is the clear favorite to be the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes this season as a redshirt sophomore. The path to this point started that day in New Jersey.
Springs approached Haskins’ father at the camp and gushed about his son’s ability. Dwayne Jr. and Skyler already were friends. Springs became Dwayne’s football mentor. He had seen what others would. Haskins had a special gift.
Springs said he is not one to dispense undeserved praise. About Haskins, he goes out on a pretty sizable limb.
“I told somebody the other day, I’ve probably only played with two quarterbacks in the NFL who I could honestly say are better than Dwayne right now,” Springs said. “One is Tom Brady and the other is Warren Moon. But Dwayne has that type of potential. It’s not going be shocking if he wins the Heisman this year or becomes the No. 1 overall (NFL draft) pick.”
Springs’ opinion is based on much more than Haskins’ powerful arm. Springs — and others who know Haskins well — say he also has the intelligence, work ethic, strong family foundation and quiet confidence and leadership skills to live up to his immense potential.
• • •
The more Springs worked with Haskins, the more he believed the budding quarterback would benefit from leaving New Jersey to play with and against better competition in the Washington area.
At one of those schools, Springs had a connection. The football coach at the private Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, is Pat Cilento. Springs played for Cilento’s father, Bob, at Springwood High School in nearby Silver Spring.
Bullis is elite academically with an emphasis on extracurriculars, and the Haskins family decided to enroll both Dwayne and his younger sister, Tamara, a budding actor, and move to Potomac.
The first time Pat Cilento and assistant coach Ray Butler saw Haskins throw, their reaction was similar to Springs’.
“We were like, in awe,” Butler said. “(The ball) whistled past your ear.”
Haskins enrolled in the middle of his freshman season. He started as a sophomore, and he endured growing pains because of his lack of experience. Soon enough, though, Haskins’ talent became undeniable.
But it was more than just about his arm. Springs said that he and Haskins began watching tape when Haskins was an eighth-grader, and Haskins was uncanny in seeing the adjustments he needed to make even before Springs could tell him.
“College concepts, he can get that in his sleep,” Springs said. “You can talk to Dwayne like he’s a pro.
“It was like this kid was born to play quarterback. This kid just soaks it up. If you told him something, he would listen. And he’s smart and he works and works and works.”
Cilento vouched for that.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around as far as perfecting his craft,” he said. “I’ve never had a guy who has gone hours and hours until he got it right.”
Cilento said that Haskins is naturally quiet and humble. On the football field, though, a more forceful side of his personality emerged.
Cilento recalled a game during Haskins’ senior season against St. Albans in which Haskins struggled. Cilento had him sit for a couple of series. Haskins kept asking to be reinserted, which the coach did with the ball at the Bullis 10-yard line with a minute left in the first half.
In just 28 seconds, Haskins completed three passes, the last a 40-yard dart down the sideline for a touchdown. When Cilento later saw the pass that Haskins completed into tight coverage to Austin Mack while leading Ohio State to a comeback victory at Michigan last year, it was déjà vu for him.
“It reminded me of the pass against St. Albans,” he said.
• • •
By his junior year, Haskins had emerged as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. But at Bullis, he showed no desire to be anything but another student.
“He was not one of those jocks who walked around school acting like he was the best,” said Dr. Jerry Boarman, Head of School at Bullis and Haskins’ faculty adviser.
At lunchtime, he would sit with anyone, not just the athletes. Boarman described Haskins as atypical for a teenager in that he had no interest in testing boundaries.
“He’s very Christian- and family-oriented,” Boarman said. “Even his senior year, he didn’t have a driver’s license. He didn’t care about that. He committed not to drink and did not go out to parties when he was in high school.
“Dwayne was totally devoted to football, his family, his academics and his faith.”
Haskins excelled academically at Bullis. Boarman said he took several Advanced Placement classes and still had a non-weighted grade point average of about 3.9. Haskins is a Scholar-Athlete at Ohio State as a journalism major.
Cilento said that Haskins was involved in his church and with community service. He read to kids at a nearby special-needs school and helped out at soup kitchens during the holidays.
“He cares about everyone,” Cilento said.
Added Boarman, “I’ve done this for 40 years and have had lots of great kids. He’s at the top of the list because he’s a good human being — the way he treats his family and others.”
Boarman praised Haskins’ parents — Dwayne Sr. and Tamara — and said they have provided a strong foundation. Boarman said that he has talked with Haskins about how college quarterbacks are under the microscope and pointed to some who have gone astray. He doesn’t worry about that with Haskins.
“He said, ‘My parents would kill me. I would never let them down,’ ” Boarman recalled.
Springs said that he and Haskins talk about the legacy he wants to leave at Ohio State, about the type of player and leader he wants to be.
“We talk about all the intangibles and life and just being a good person. I think that’s the most important thing for Dwayne — How do you become a good person?”
Springs understands that his praise has set the bar high for Haskins. He is fine with that.
“A year from now, everybody is going to be saying the things I’m saying,” he said.