Joey Haynos

During his senior year at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., Joey Haynos (21) and his Purple Eagles squad went 10-0, winning the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. "We explored using him at tight end and wideout," said former Gonzaga coach Ken Lucas. "We were fortunate that he had very, very good hands." (Handout photo)

No one had illusions of athletic grandeur when 6-foot-4, 180-pound Joey Haynos first walked through the doors of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., as a freshman in 1999.

Growing up in Rockville, Haynos excelled in basketball, played football starting in middle school and also participated in swimming, lacrosse, soccer and baseball.

It was probably a safe bet that Haynos would emerge as a quality varsity basketball player. He'd give football and lacrosse a shot, as well. But there were certainly no guarantees of being anything more than a good-to-great high school athlete.

"I just saw him as a tall, skinny kid, kind of awkward," said Gonzaga athletic director and now head football coach Joe Reyda of his first impressions of Haynos back in '99. "... Not to downgrade him, but it was kind of like he was too tall for his age."

Joe Haynos coached his son Joey in football during his pre-Gonzaga, middle school years.

"I always thought he was too thin to play football," Joe Haynos said. "But he was always very athletic. He played basketball at a pretty high level."

The younger Haynos set realistic athletic goals at the time.

"I was completely focused on making varsity as quick as I could in whatever sport I could," Haynos said. "I was just completely focused on Gonzaga sports. If it meant going to the next level, I'd take it if it came. But I wasn't really focused on going to the next level until senior year. I just wanted to win a championship at Gonzaga."

Somewhere between his lean high school days at Gonzaga and his four-and-a-half years on the Maryland football team, Haynos, to nearly everyone's surprise, developed into an NFL-quality talent at tight end. Now the 2007 Maryland economics graduate is set to take the next step in his unlikely athletic journey -- the NFL combine, which begins today in Indianapolis.

Haynos is on the precipice of professional football, but had a few things gone differently in high school, his story could have played out in a completely different manner.

The game

By the time 2002 rolled around, Haynos had sprouted from a skinny, 6-foot-4, 180-pound freshman to a skinny, 6-foot-7, 220-pound senior.

He played lacrosse his freshman year at Gonzaga, but chose to focus on just basketball and football from his sophomore year on. By the time he was a senior, it appeared to be a good choice -- Haynos was a starter on the football team, and a promising basketball prospect both in high school and with the Bethesda Magic AAU team.

Football was going particularly well during Haynos' senior year. Gonzaga was 3-0 heading into a key Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game at Good Counsel -- Haynos' dad's alma mater.

Traditionally, Gonzaga had a strong record of producing Division I football players. The program has even sent a few to the NFL, most notably Roman Oben, a 12-year veteran and member of the 2002 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, former Notre Dame standout and NFL wide receiver Malcolm Johnson and most recently, ex-Terps defensive back and current Houston Texans safety Curome Cox.

The 2002 Gonzaga team was another in the long line of loaded Purple Eagles squads. Senior linebacker Kory Gedin and junior wide receiver Doug Dutch were major Division I prospects that routinely drew college assistants to Gonzaga's games. On the day of the Gonzaga-Good Counsel game, then-Maryland recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Mike Locksley was in attendance to check out Gedin and Dutch.

But it was Haynos who stole the show.

"It was the quality of the catches," said Ken Lucas, the former Gonzaga and now Annapolis Area Christian head coach. "He made some tough catches in some tough situations. He allowed us to continue drives. [On] one, I remember him going across the middle. Another he was diving toward the sideline and that allowed us to continue the drive. He made critical catches and displayed a little bit of athleticism."

At some point during Haynos' five-catch, 75-yard performance, Locksley's attention was, at least for a moment, drawn away from Dutch and Gedin, and focused squarely on the lanky senior tight end.