Dwayne Haskins' presence is still being felt at Ohio State
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Dwayne Haskins' presence is still being felt at Ohio State

I found out about Dwayne Haskins’ death walking onto a practice field full of quarterbacks who wanted to be just like him.

Standing in line to get my credential at the Elite 11 in Massillon, Ohio, I rushed into the facility, instantly got my laptop out and began to write a story I didn’t think I would have to write this soon. But with adrenaline pumping and a job to do, the weight of what I was typing didn’t register.

I put my laptop away, got up and began to walk down the sideline, looking at the roster of high school quarterbacks from all around the Midwest that had gathered at Massillon Washington High School for a chance to be noticed, a chance to have the opportunity Haskins had.

The headliner for this particular camp was Dante Moore: a five-star pro-style quarterback out of Detroit, a Cleveland native who already held an Ohio State offer. After earning MVP honors and a chance to compete in the Elite 11 finals, Moore talked about his recent visit to Ohio State, how his focus was to see how C.J. Stroud carried his business on the practice field, how he went about his day-to-day routine coming off a Heisman finalist season.

What Moore seeks is just a continuation of the tradition Haskins began back in 2018.

Haskins wasn’t the prototypical Ohio State quarterback of the time. Replacing J.T. Barrett, who had finished second on the team in rushing and led the Buckeyes in rushing touchdowns, Haskins came in as a pro-style pocket passer, trusting his arm instead of tucking and running.

The Buckeyes saw that from his first career start, exploding for 313 passing yards and five passing touchdowns against Oregon State. But that became the norm, breaking the Big Ten record for most passing yards in a single season with 4,831 and most touchdown passes in a single season with 50.

In 14 starts, Haskins set 28 Ohio State records, adding seven Big Ten Conference records, leading to his own trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, finishing third.

That’s what Haskins wanted his Ohio State career to look like.

In 2018, talking to him before the Heisman Trophy ceremony when I was the sports editor with The Lantern, the redshirt sophomore quarterback said he would play the “Road to Glory” story mode in the NCAA Football video game, portraying himself as a 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback that donned No. 7 for Ohio State.

With this virtual “Haskins,” he won the Heisman Trophy in each season he played.

Haskins had dreams of the next level too, becoming the first Ohio State quarterback since Art Schlichter in 1982 to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, something that seems normal now with Justin Fields going in the first round in 2021 and, likely, Stroud being selected as one of the first picks in 2023.

Haskins was still in the midst of finding his way in the NFL, playing in 16 games through two seasons with Washington and backing up Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021.

While his story was still being written at the professional level,Haskins’ legacy was set at Ohio State.

As then-offensive coordinator Ryan Day’s second starting quarterback, Haskins led an offense where 40 points and 500 yards became the norm using primarily his arm, one that later influenced the development and growth of both Fields and Stroud after him along with the type of quarterbacks Day targeted in the future as Ohio State’s head coach, including Moore and 2025 quarterback Ryan Montgomery, who both threw at Elite 11.

This all flooded my mind as I watched a room filled with high school quarterbacks go through drills.

And then I saw Day, standing in the back.

He wasn’t at Massillon Washington High School as Ohio State’s head coach, but as a father, watching his son RJ compete in drills, even with occasional glances in the direction of Moore and Montgomery to see how they were performing.

It was from there I saw him on his phone typing, generating the response to something he probably never thought he would have to write either.

“The loss of Dwayne is beyond tragic and extremely difficult to process,” Day tweeted. “For those who knew him closely, he was much more than a great football player. He had a giant heart, old soul and an infectious smile. The Ohio State community and our entire football program are heartbroken.”

That’s who Haskins was: a quarterback who helped change the trajectory of Ohio State’s offense, a leader who embraced a room of veteran receivers like K.J. Hill, Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin, a friend, who with that infectious smile fostered community everywhere he went.

Haskins was a trend-setter.

It’s something I couldn’t help but see when I watched a room filled with high school quarterbacks, eager for a chance to shine, a chance to lead an offense, to make the impact like the former four-star quarterback from Potomac, Maryland did.

I saw players who wanted to be Haskins.