GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Dwayne Haskins Sr. presides over a long table of close family and friends gathered for a late lunch at Red Lobster. Everyone sitting at the table is involved with Haskins & Haskins Group, an entertainment and event production firm that Haskins Sr. created. The group is meeting now to run through the details for that evening’s draft party at the bowling alley across the parking lot. Most of the group are in black or white hats and hoodies embroidered with the H&H logo. Dwayne Sr., his wife, Tammy, and daughter, Tamia, got the logo permanently tattooed on their wrists in black ink the day before the draft. Dwayne Haskins Jr., CEO of Haskins & Haskins and one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2019 draft, will get his tattoo later on. He’s been a little preoccupied lately. Dwayne Jr. is the reason for this planning meeting, but he’s not here—he’s getting in a boxing and throwing workout before the night’s festivities begin.
“Every person that is out in the front or in the lobby, make sure you engage, shake hands and show everybody your pearly white teeth,” Sr. says. “Can we all do that? Let's practice that now.”
He flashes a giant exaggerated smile. Every little detail of the draft party has been organized exactly the way Dwayne Sr. and the H&H team wanted it, down to the precise words the group will use when greeting guests, which is typed on the meeting’s eight-part agenda: “Welcome to the Haskins family draft party! Dreams do come true!”
It sounds like a sugary Disney motto, but the Haskins & Haskins crew genuinely believe in this mantra, and it shows. “Okay, real quick, I need everybody to do a soundcheck,” says Dwayne Sr.
Tamia cheerfully recites the script. She’s a senior in high school and has taken the day off of school for the draft. Next up, Tammy. And then one by one, everyone at the table repeats the official greeting language, making a point to speak clearly and emphasize the do in “dreams do come true.”
Dwayne Sr. and the support system of family and friends that he calls “the fellowship” have been grooming Dwayne Jr. to become an NFL quarterback since he was nine years old. That goal would be reached in a few hours, with either the Giants or the Redskins as the most likely landing spots.
Satisfied with the group’s soundcheck energy, Dwayne Sr. closes the meeting in prayer, as he always does, and he reveals what he wants for his son. “It's about the fit, not about the number,” he says. “Let's hope and pray he is going 15 minutes down the highway.”
Dwayne Jr. arrives at Bowlmor Lanes in a gray van outfitted with a black-and-white H&H decal. Sr. says he started creating the concept for H&H and building the team seven years ago, when Dwayne Jr. was 15. The current staff comprises family and friends with various skills—lawyer, communications specialist, financial planner. As COO, Tamia has helped organize and plan the draft party and will emcee the event. Dwayne Jr. never considered going to Nashville for the draft, because he wanted to celebrate with as many friends and family as possible. “This is home,” he says, “You only get to bring 10 people with you to the draft, and there are 300 people here, so I can’t imagine having to pick.”
The party has been in the planning stages since February, and Dwayne Sr. says it sold out in 12 days. People from all phases of Dwayne’s life showed up. Cousins flew in from Minnesota and drove up from Georgia, a former Ohio State teammate flew in from Houston, and a large contingent drove over from Jersey, where Haskins lived until moving to Maryland in high school.
“It was disappointing that everyone was saying he didn’t want to go to the draft because he was afraid he wasn’t going to get picked,” says Rick Chudnick, a high school friend of Dwayne Sr. “I said no, he’s got this support system and there is something bigger about Dwayne because he has the Haskins brand.”
Tammy and Dwayne Sr. get out of the car first, followed by Dwayne Jr. and his girlfriend, Savhana Cousin. A security detail flanks Dwayne Jr. as the group walks down the red carpet and through the sliding automatic doors, which are locked to a narrow width that allows only one person through at a time, to prevent anyone from sneaking in uninvited.
Once inside, Dwayne Jr. heads into the VIP room, separated from the rest of the bowling alley by a door, where an undercover security detail watches him. Guests are given credentials with an illustration of Dwayne Jr. wearing a crown and his nickname, “Simba,” on one side and a list of his records on the other. The nickname provides an obvious coming-of-a-king analogy that’s a natural tie to the theme of an ascending rookie QB. T-shirts commemorating the night are on sale for $25. A DJ spins the latest in hip hop from a platform in the middle of the lanes. There’s a raffle for a pair of Bose headphones. Dwayne Jr.’s Ohio State highlights play on projector screens above each lane. Guests are encouraged to wear their favorite jerseys, and Redskins, Giants and No. 7 Ohio State jerseys dominate. Tamia works the red carpet with a microphone, asking invitees questions such as, “Having known Dwayne throughout his journey, what characteristic do you think prepared him for this moment?”
“This is like being at the draft, honestly,” says Anton Bova, Dwayne’s barber, whom he flew in from Columbus to give him a fresh cut for the day. “He said, ‘Yeah, I am just gonna chill at home and stay with family.’ I didn’t know what to expect, but this is not home and chilling with the family. This is crazy.”
Typically when first-round prospects choose not to attend the draft it’s because they want to relax at home with a small group of friends and family, away from the glare of live cameras and the stressful schedule of media obligations and demands for sponsored content. But this home draft party isn’t casual or relaxed. While the crowd stamps and claps to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” the DJ shouts out, “Help me welcome the first family of football, THE HAS-KINS!”
Dwayne Jr. finally sits down at a lane at the start of the draft, but there won’t be any bowling. Fifteen cameras are lined up in front of him, blocking each lane. ESPN, NFL Network and Big Ten Network are all here, along with local news stations, a documentary crew from Overbrook Entertainment, the production company co-founded by Will Smith—and H&H’s own crew.
Dwayne Jr. isn’t fazed. He’s a subdued and soft-spoken guy who rarely shows emotion, not the type to bask in the limelight. His resting face gives off the feeling of someone who is just waiting for it all to be over. “I don’t like to be the center of attention, but I play quarterback, so it’s a contradiction,” he says.
Dwayne Jr.’s stock had been questioned in the days leading up to the draft, but he says he’s been trying not to think about it, because God has a plan that’s already written out for him. He did catch some attention a week earlier with a pointed tweet: “Don’t overthink it. Trust me.”
When asked before the draft to explain if that was directed at NFL teams, Dwayne Jr. said, “I put it out there for anyone and everyone, wink, wink, [Giants GM] Gettleman.”
As Roger Goodell kicks off the draft, Jr. orders a Shirley Temple, pulls out his phone and starts playing Toon Blast, hardly paying attention the scenes from Nashville playing out on the projector screens. Savhana and Tamia scratch his back as they wait through the first few picks. With the Jets on the clock picking third, Dwayne Jr.’s phone battery has already drained down to eight percent. Sr. is the alternate draft night number. He’s known for texting daily Bible verses to most of his contacts in his phone, so his friends joke that he’s not reliable because he’ll probably just start reading scripture to whichever general manager dials him. Dwayne Sr. asks around for a mobile charger, and a cameraman saves the day.
When Gettleman and the Giants pull a surprise and pick Duke quarterback Daniel Jones sixth overall pick over Dwayne Jr., the guests in the room gasp and disappointedly murmur. Dwayne Jr. gives a little smirk and the slightest of shrugs while looking at his phone. He gets a Shirley Temple refill and sets his headphones back over his ears.
Denver, which brought Haskins in on a visit, is potential landing spot, but the Broncos trade down with Pittsburgh. The Bengals take an offensive lineman. With Miami on the clock at 13, a family friend puts a hand on Dwayne Sr., and Tammy and says a prayer for peace, that a team will call his number and to remove the worry from the Jr. and the family.
After the Dolphins, another team he visited, pick a defensive tackle, Dwayne Jr. stands up to stretch. He’s now on his third Shirley Temple. Atlanta doesn’t need a quarterback at 14, so the chatter builds to a dull roar and the family gets in position. They’ve all got a feeling about the next team on the clock, Washington. Dwayne Jr. shoots a text to well-connected ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, who had asked him to text him when he knew where he was going. Redskins. Riddick sends back a congrats text, triggering the iPhone’s colorful confetti response. To those sitting near him, the confetti floating across his screen is a dead giveaway. Everybody leans in.
Right on cue, an unknown number flashes across Dwayne Jr.’s screen. He smiles and holds up his phone to show his family and the cameras that the call is coming in. The crowd of family and friends erupt in cheers and swarms Dwayne Jr. and his mom, dad, and sister. Tammy is so relieved because she wanted her boy to stay close to home. Redskins Park is just a 40-minute drive from their Gaithersburg home.
“I knew I was going to be a Washington Redskin this morning,” he says. “It was just a matter of where they were going to pick me. I knew the quarterback-needy teams that wanted me. I knew Arizona would take Kyler, I knew that the Giants liked Jones, and I figured the Redskins might trade up to three, or they might trade up to eight, or five, but they got me at 15, so it’s great for both of us.”
He puts on the Redskins draft hat, crosses his arms and stands up to face the cameras. His family gathers close behind him for the draft broadcasts’ live shots. A media scrum that would rival Nashville gathers around him, and when an ESPN reporter asks him about waiting longer than he expected for his call, Dwayne Jr. betrays emotion for the first time that night. “To be honest, I am more motivated now than ever,” he says, while his dad nods behind him. “There’s a bigger chip on my shoulder. The league done messed up.”
After he’s spoken to Redskins beat writers over the phone and posed for an Old Spice Instagram post, he sits down to check his phone. A reporter asks him if he can really have a chip on his shoulder as as a first-round draft pick. “Of course,” he says. “I had one before—oh look!”
A text has just come through. It’s Odell Beckham Jr. with three short words: “Show em why.”
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