Ohio State football: Ryan Day remembers Dwayne Haskins for infectious smile, lasting impact on program

COLUMBUS -- Joy was the first descriptive word Ohio State football coach Ryan Day used Monday when asked about his memories of Dwayne Haskins.

“I think the first thing was you just saw somebody who was just a joy to be around,” Day said Monday morning, two days after Haskins died after being struck by a truck on a highway in Florida. “Our guys really enjoyed being around him. He helped lift others.

“That smile that he had, it was just infectious. And he kind of had an old soul about him. He was somebody who was young and very, very talented on the field, just had a gift for throwing the football, but sometimes when you were talking to him, you thought you were talking to a 45- or 50-year-old man just by the way he approached life in general.”

Haskins last threw a pass in an Ohio State uniform three years ago when leading the Buckeyes to a win over Washington in the Rose Bowl.

That capped a season in which he put up passing numbers that were better than most Ohio State quarterbacks had notched in their entire careers.

In 2018, Haskins set 28 Ohio State records and seven Big Ten records, including single-season passing yards (4,831), touchdown passes (50) and total offensive yards (4,939).

Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud, the two starters since Haskins entered the 2019 NFL draft and was a first-round pick of Washington, have already surpassed a couple of his marks, but rather than overshadow his career, that only serves to further highlight how he changed the way things are done in Columbus.

“There’s a lot of people who are involved, but Dwayne certainly kick-started it with the way we’ve thrown the ball and the passing game here,” said Day, who became quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator the year after Haskins arrived on campus.

The young coach helped J.T. Barrett finish off his own record-setting career in 2017, then Haskins took the passing game to a new level the following season as a redshirt sophomore.

“The first year with J.T., he really did a great job, in my opinion throwing the ball that year,” Day said, “so you could see it coming and building. And then Dwayne really took that into the next gear and took it ran. So we learned a lot about the offense that year as well and then tweaked it a little bit the next year, but for somebody to make an impact the way he did in one season is remarkable.”

That capped a journey that started when Haskins visited Ohio State as a youngster, a trip that produced a video that went viral on National Signing Day in 2016 and again over the weekend after news of his death spread.

“The story of how he was recruited is quite interesting in just the way that he was 11 years old walking through this facility and said, ‘This is what I’m gonna do,’” Day said. “And then he did it. I think that’s the legacy he’s gonna leave behind for so many young people across the country, not just in Buckeye Nation. You can set a goal and have a dream and achieve it.

“He broke a lot of records that year in 2018, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest legacies he’s going to leave behind. He set a dream and he did it, but I do think when you think about the passing game now and where it’s going and where it is, I think that’s a big part of it.”

Day said the few members of the current team who shared a locker room with Haskins were crushed to learn of his passing, and they were still processing it Monday when he met with them.

The team plans a tribute of some sort Saturday when it holds the annual Scarlet and Gray Game at Ohio Stadium, but Day said specifics of that had not been determined yet.

Haskins was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Quarterback of the Year in 2018, and he won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the league’s most valuable player.

Then he became the first Big Ten quarterback drafted in the first round since Kerry Collins of Penn State in 1995 and the first Ohio State quarterback taken in the first round since Art Schlichter in 1984.

Two years after Haskins, Fields became the next Ohio State NFL first-round quarterback, and Stroud appears on track to be the next in 2023.

None of that might have happened without Haskins, who encouraged Fields to look at Ohio State when he was in the transfer portal after his freshman season at Georgia and caught the eye of a young Stroud when he was growing up in California.

“I think he was kind of a big brother to those guys,” Day said. “I mean, when you come through Ohio State and you play the position and you kind of walked in those shoes, only a few people quite understand what that’s like.”

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