When Dwayne Haskins Jr. steps on campus at Ohio State in June with the rest of the incoming freshman football players, he will be at least the third-string quarterback.
That’s a lot of pressure, especially considering the way Ohio State has relied on its QBs in recent seasons. But Haskins’ high school coach, Pat Cilento of The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, said his departing protege is up to the challenge.
“No. 1, he loves pressure,” Cilento said.
As an example, he referred to the Maryland state title game in 2014 when Bullis was down by four points with 1:51 left.
“He took us 91 yards in about 30 seconds and scored a touchdown, and he didn’t even blink, didn’t even flinch,” Cilento said. “And he was playing basically on one leg for 2 1/2 quarters after suffering a high-ankle sprain. He could barely move. He basically caught the snap and threw it. So he loves the pressure, and he is a fierce competitor.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is well aware. He watched a gifted high school sophomore who was probably too skinny at that time to fit the Buckeyes’ needs. They stayed in touch, though, as Haskins added weight and blossomed into one of the nation’s elite in the 2016 recruiting cycle. And when Haskins decommitted from Maryland in December after coach Randy Edsall was let go, Ohio State stepped in to sign him in February, for one primary reason.
“He’s the best quarterback at his age I’ve ever seen,” Meyer said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Haskins, praised for his game awareness, pass release and accuracy and his ability to bounce away from trouble and keep plays alive.
It was no surprise, then, that Meyer did not hesitate when asked after spring practice whether Haskins would figure into the depth chart right away.
“Yes,” Meyer said. “I’ve known Dwayne for three years. I sat and watched him work out; he was training at a facility and I got to physically watch him. … Although he’s very young and his skill set is really good, his film is really good. I’m hoping he gets right in the middle of that thing.”
Meyer is counting on it, in fact. Last week, sophomore Stephen Collier — third coming out of the spring behind returning starter J.T. Barrett and redshirt freshman Joey Burrow — underwent knee surgery and is expected to miss the season. Yet Ohio State coaches already were expecting Haskins, the offensive MVP of the United States’ win over Canada in the International Bowl in January, to stir the stew.
“The expectations are going to be very high for him to come in and learn the offense, and compete to try to play,” quarterbacks coach Tim Beck said. It’s up to Barrett and Burrow “to keep him at bay. That’s part of the competition level and part of being a quarterback here at Ohio State.”
Cilento said Haskins has been preparing for such competition, adding that “he works from sunup to sundown on academics and perfecting his craft in football.” But the coach also understands the challenge.
“I was a quarterback in college (Western Carolina),and that’s probably the toughest position to just walk in and play, because you are in control of that offense and you have to be a coach on the field,” Cilento said. “There will be a learning curve. That being said, Dwayne’s IQ in football is off the charts, and he is so fundamentally sound. That’s what separates him from pretty much everybody else.”