Headed toward Saturday’s 115th renewal of Ohio State vs. Michigan, it has been a year since the moment that Dwayne Haskins Jr. became a legend in OSU lore. As is often the case with a legend, it morphs with the telling.
Take Haskins’ version of his emotions when suddenly, with the Buckeyes trailing 20-14 late in the third quarter and quarterback J.T. Barrett having just suffered a knee injury, he was thrust into The Game to save the day.
“I’d say I was pretty calm in that situation,” Haskins said. “I didn’t have too many racing thoughts, any thoughts of concern or self-doubt. … I don’t really recall everything that happened in that game. But being able to go into that atmosphere and that environment and go succeed meant the world for going into this season.”
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The Buckeyes rallied on the strength of his third-and-long pass to Austin Mack and a scrambling run by Haskins to set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 31-20 victory.
But was he really that cool from the jump?
“It was his first real snaps as a QB,” hybrid back Parris Campbell said. “He came in how you would expect him to come in. … I don’t want to say nervous, but you could tell he was just a little shaken up by the moment.
“But after he completed that pass to Austin Mack for that huge third-down conversion, he was animated and ready to go, and he kept pushing. He came back to the sideline energetic, got guys going, and he was good for us.”
Right guard Demetrius Knox leaned more toward Haskins’ recollection.
“When J.T. went down, we were a little hurt because he was our leader,” Knox said. “People may have been a little flustered. But when Dwayne stepped up and got into the huddle, we looked him in his eyes and knew he was ready.”
Shawn Springs sides with the Knox account.
The former Ohio State and NFL star cornerback has watched and mentored Haskins from the seventh grade after a chance meeting showed him there was something special about the youngster. It came in the summer in New Jersey nine years ago when Springs’ sixth-grade son and Haskins were taking part in the same youth camp.
“My son, he threw it like 20 yards; then this dude, he steps up there, in seventh grade, and throws it like 50,” Springs said. “I was thinking, ‘This kid is amazing.’”
After the youngster — already an Ohio State fan whose hero was 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith — recognized the former Buckeye and called him “Mr. Springs,” their friendship began.
“We started talking,” Springs said.
He encouraged the Haskins family to move to the Washington, D.C., area so the budding quarterback could play against better competition and gain better coaching. They decided on The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, which put Haskins under coach Pat Cilento.
What struck Springs the most about his protégé wasn’t the obvious: his ability to throw a football accurately with velocity, touch or distance. A lot of youngsters can do that, yet never amount to much as a quarterback.
“He was in the eighth grade and already was reading defenses like a junior in high school,” Springs said. “We’re talking about route concepts, and coverages. … By the time he was in the 11th grade, he was already on a college level.”
Haskins said he had long been a student of the game, his knowledge building through participation in NFL teams’ youth summer camps on the Eastern Seaboard and through studying on his own.
“My dad and I used to watch tapes about different coverages,” Haskins said. “And me and Shawn would sit and watch, like 2004, Tom Brady vs. whoever, and we’d look at the coverages. I was 14 or 15, and I could recognize them right away. ‘That’s cover 3. That’s cover 2.’ It just came natural to me to analyze a defense and see where pressures are coming from and all that. I picked up things really fast.”
That’s why preparation, then adjusting to what actually was happening in a game, became sport to him.
“What made playing quarterback fun was that the show pretty much has to run through me,” Haskins said. “I’m pretty much the determining factor of whether the offense does well. That gave me a sense of confidence because no matter what the play is, I get the ball in my hand, and I get to decide what happens. That made me feel confident I can make things happen.”
Springs attested to that.
“Last year when he went into the game at Michigan, it was funny,” Springs said. “People were asking me, ‘Man, were you surprised Dwayne handled it like he did?’ No.”
Now Haskins heads into Saturday’s game having already set Ohio State season records for passing yards (3,685) and touchdown passes (36, which is tied for the most in the country this season). No one in Ohio State history has thrown it with the flair he displays.
“As I’ve said before, I only played with two quarterbacks who threw a better ball than Dwayne,” said Springs, who played 13 seasons in the NFL through 2009. “That was Warren Moon and Tom Brady. Everybody is saying, ‘That’s high praise for a kid who has barely started yet.’
“I was like, ‘I played 13 years in the NFL ,and I’m not going to disrespect Mark Brunell, Jon Kitna, Matt Hasselbeck and all these guys I played with to just be saying that. This kid is legit.’”