Like a lot of 21-year-olds going into the workforce for the first time, Dwayne Haskins had a lot of growing up to do when he arrived in the NFL in April 2019.
But there was one thing no one around him ever questioned: they knew, deep down, he had a heart of gold.
It showed most in how he would interact with kids, was apparent in his million-dollar smile and obvious in the way he treated people. There was a video of Haskins that went viral during his meteoric rise to stardom at Ohio State that showed him as an 11-year-old throwing at a camp in the Buckeyes’ indoor facility, and proclaiming, “I’m gonna go to school here.” It was probably a little naïve of him then, but it was what Haskins was—genuine.
Haskins died Saturday morning after being struck by a car while he was in South Florida, where he was working out ahead of the Steelers’ offseason program with Mitch Trubisky, Najee Harris, and host of his teammates. He is survived by his wife, Kalabrya, parents, Dwayne Sr. and Tamara, and little sister, Tamia, with whom he was incredibly close.
Haskins arrived on the scene like a comet—first, coming in for an injured J.T. Barrett to lead Ohio State’s comeback win against archrival Michigan as a redshirt freshman; then, the following year, obliterating Big Ten records for touchdown passes (his 50 broke Drew Brees’s old mark of 39), passing yards (4,831) and total offense (4,939 yards, more than 600 clear of the old mark). He capped his collegiate career with six touchdown passes in a rout of the Wolverines, and MVP honors in the Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl.
After being drafted in the first round by Washington the following April, he went through a tumultuous rookie year, during which his first coach, Jay Gruden, was fired. He was benched his second year, and cut that December by Ron Rivera after breaking COVID-19 protocols for a second time.
But since, there were signs Haskins was turning a corner. He signed with the Steelers in January 2021, and served an apprenticeship, one he likely needed from the start, while backing up Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph last fall. Those around him saw growth. He got married before the season. He was focused on trying to make the most of his second chance in Pittsburgh, and there was excitement that he could actually make a run at the starting job this spring and summer after Roethlisberger’s retirement.
It was that pursuit that led him to Florida this week, working out with all those Pittsburgh skill players to get ready for the team’s offseason program, which kicks off a week from Monday.
Tragically, Haskins won’t be there, and we’ll never get to see where his next football chapter was going to take him.
I can remember sitting next to his college offensive coordinator, Ryan Day, inside Lucas Oil Stadium at the 2019 NFL combine, watching Haskins throw, hearing Day call his arm talent “ridiculous” and detailing his growth through his single season as a starter in Columbus.
“If he continues to develop, if he’s afforded an opportunity to work through and learn, grow, then I think he could be one of the best to ever play the game,” Day said then. “He has that ability.”
And maybe Day didn’t know how quickly or deliberately it’d happen, but he figured Haskins would eventually figure it out.
Some of his football dreams came true, others didn’t. On one hand, the kid on that video from 2008, inexplicably, manifested what he set out to do. On the other, we’ll never know where he could’ve taken his talent after doing some of the growing up that so many so many of us do in our 20s.
But where he left little doubt was around the kind of person he was, both to those around him and those he’d encounter who he didn’t know as well. Which, on this sad day, is the most important thing of all.