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.
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.
"I remember standing with coach Locksley and remember him asking about Joey," Reyda said. "Joey had a great game that night. And that's what kind of got the ball rolling. [Locksley] liked his size, and then he met [Joey's] grandfather, who is like 6-6, 6-7. That's kind of where it opened up coach Locksley's eyes."
At the conclusion of the game -- a 28-14 win for Gonzaga -- Locksley made his way from Reyda's side to the Gonzaga bench.
"After that game, when Mike Locksley came up to me, he almost kind of grabbed me and said, 'Who is that kid? Where did he come from? Why didn't you tell me about him?'" Lucas recalled. "And I said, 'He's been here, Mike.' I guess his talent just hadn't been exploited, but that game he made some very tough catches. ... We remained in communication. [Locksley] asked, 'What does he [have] going on?' He had a few feelers. Mike said, 'Well I'd like to at least talk to him, get in front of him and see what his interest is.' Things materialized from there."
Locksley didn't speak with Haynos that day. After the elation from Gonzaga's big win died down a touch, Haynos' mother, Maureen, decided to drop the tidbit about Locksley's interest to her son.
"I mean I was shocked," Haynos said. "I thought, 'The University of Maryland? No way!' I had no idea. It was cool. I actually didn't believe my parents when they told me. But I could tell that they were serious. At first I was shocked and didn't even believe them. Then I could tell they weren't messing around."
Haynos continued with his season, as Gonzaga ultimately finished 10-0 and won the WCAC championship. Haynos was a big part of the Purple Eagles' success.
"He was critical in terms of what we did," Lucas said. "At that point he would've been classified as one of our top guys, per se. Douglas Dutch, Kory Gedin ended up at Michigan and North Carolina respectively. But Joey was not a big-time football prospect initially. We were confident in his ability, but to be honest, we weren't certain what sport he would choose. He had some desires to play basketball up until the 11th hour."
Locksley and the Terps offered Haynos a preferred walk-on spot, but he explored his options a bit before making his decision.
Haynos' dad encouraged him to visit Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. The Division I school offered Haynos the opportunity to take an official visit, and Joe Haynos at least wanted his son to take a look.
"I talked him into it," Joe Haynos said. "Let's go down there and see what it's like. Take the visit. They offered the scholarship when he was there. But it just wasn't the right situation for him. He's a home guy. I think he wanted to stay in the area. I guess he wanted to see if he could [play for Maryland]."
Joe Haynos told his son to not worry about tuition. If walking on at Maryland was what Haynos wanted to do, then his father would pay for his school until he earned a football scholarship.
By the time Haynos had made up his mind to walk on, Locksley had left College Park to take a job on Ron Zook's staff at Florida. Haynos called another Maryland coach and eagerly relayed the good news that he'd be a Terp.
"I just told them 'I'm going,' and they were like, 'Cool. See ya in August.'"
Had Locksley never scouted that Gonzaga-Good Counsel game, Haynos might have ended up at Campbell. Or he could've played football at Catholic University like his father. Towson had shown a bit of interest, so that was another option. But thanks to Gedin and Dutch, the Maryland opportunity arose, and walking on with the Terps was Haynos' choice.
Haynos admitted it was not only unexpected, but a little overwhelming at first. A chance encounter with a more well-known Terp had Joe Haynos nearly in disbelief regarding his son's new status as a Division I football player.
"The first day I brought him down to Maryland, we got in an elevator with Shawne Merriman and I thought, 'Oh my God, he's going to get killed down here.'"
But, of course, Haynos didn't get killed. He took his early beatings, put on 30-40 pounds during his time at College Park and eventually became a top receiving target for the Terps. According to his father, Haynos never missed a practice or workout at Maryland. That work ethic, Reyda said, allowed Haynos to be in the position to earn an invite to the NFL combine.
"With his size and his frame as a senior in high school, he wasn't really put together," Reyda said. "But you could see he had the frame once he got into a college weight program. ... I was happy he was walking on and I hoped he would succeed there, but it was just a matter of how hard he'd work and how he'd develop. And he worked his tail off during his years in college, during the offseason and worked his way to the scholarship. He's earned it all."
Being in this position still occasionally astonishes Haynos. And it's certainly something he couldn't have predicted back in 1999.
"When I was a freshman back at Gonzaga, I mean I always dreamed I'd be in this situation, but it was just that -- a dream," Haynos said. "Now it's a reality. Going back to freshman year, I knew I had talent, but I never knew if I'd get the opportunity."
Thanks to a talented pair of teammates, a Maryland assistant on scouting duty, a big high school game and four-and-a-half years of hard work in college, Haynos has that opportunity starting today in Indianapolis.
Now it's up to him to surprise everyone all over again.