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    We Are The MAC: Adam Haywood

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    Editor's Note: Ohio is next. If you are a MAC team and have a specific player you'd like one of these articles written about, let me know here or in my inbox. Otherwise I'll choose. The article after Ohio will be from Miami OH unless I have another request.

     

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    Haywood after breaking up a crucial 3rd down pass in the 2019 MAC Championship.

     

    A 1993 Toyota Camry is rarely called beautiful.

     

    In fact, it's rarely worth calling one a car anymore. But as Adam Haywood sits on its hood, he pats it with such pride you would think it just won a Best In Show ribbon. "I call her Gloria," he says. And then he does it. He calls her "beautiful."

     

    When you start her up, Gloria sputters and coughs like she has the nastiest cold you've ever seen. "Give her a minute," Haywood tells me, although he seems to be assuring himself. When he's satisfied that she's still alive, he points to the dash and gives a knowing chuckle. "two hundred thousand, three hundred and twelve miles. I've only had her for about 25,000 of those, but it feels like longer."

     

    Why the hell have I asked to examine a college football player's clunker? The answer to that question is tricky. You see, I don't care about the car; as reliable as ol' Gloria probably is- and Haywood has told me at least three times that she's "as steady as they come"- I am not here to learn about her. I'm here to learn about Haywood. A big part of who Haywood is lies in the metal frame of Gloria. In fact, at one point, every part of Haywood lay within. 

     

    Gloria was more than a college car to Haywood. At one point, she had been his lifeline and his shelter. That 1993 Toyota Camry, with the big dent in the wheel well and the side mirror that was duct taped on, had once been home to a homeless Adam Haywood. When he had nowhere else to turn, he had Gloria. She's been the only constant in his life ever since.

     

     

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    Haywood is known for his trash talk before each play. "I want to own real estate in every receiver's head," he explains.

     

    Haywood isn't one to make excuses. He owns up to everything that's happened to him with a ferocity usually reserved for a 1990s rapper. He revels in his past, even when many tell him to forget it. "It's part of who I am," he explains. "I'm a dog now because I was a pup who grew up. And I wouldn't be where I am today without life giving me its best shot."

     

    Despite his obvious athletic ability, Haywood didn't play football until he reached the 10th grade. He was too engrossed in other pursuits- at one time, he wanted to be a soccer star. Then he got into basketball. Then he got kicked off the basketball team for smoking cigarettes in the locker room. 

     

    "It was my high school basketball coach who got me to play football. Not because I wanted to at the time, though. Just because he wouldn't let me play basketball no more. I hated him for it at first, but looking back... couldn't have been better for me."

     

    Haywood stepped on the field as a raw but talented player. In his sophomore year he was a major contributor to Brookhaven's semifinal run. They ran a Tampa 2 defense in which Haywood thrived. In the quarterfinal game he lead Brookhaven to a 59-35 win behind an Ohio single game record 5 interceptions. He continued to explode onto the scene, being listed among all major recruiting sites in the Top 100 and garnering interest from schools all throughout the Midwest. It was the spring of his junior year when Gloria entered his life.

     

    "I bought her with the money I earned bagging groceries," Haywood explains. "I hadn't had a car before that. Usually I rode my bike to school, or my grandma would drop me off. But she died that spring, so I knew I had to get myself a ride."

     

    His maternal grandmother, Loretta Kingston, was the woman who raised him. His mother died when he was just six years old, and his father was never around. "She was my saving grace. She was the only one who looked out for me. When she died, the only thing that kept me going was knowing I needed to make her proud." 

     

    So he bought Gloria. The original intent was for it to get him to and from both school and work, and nothing more. But being a full time student, he couldn't devote enough time to his job to keep his grandmother's apartment, and he was evicted two months later. "I didn't tell nobody about it." Haywood's ferocity returns as he explains those months. "I'd shower in the locker room at school in the mornings before anyone got there, and at night, I'd drive to a park and camp out there. Usually, I ate only the school lunch and whatever I could afford during my lunch break at work. It wasn't the best times, but I got through it."

     

    Haywood stresses the idea of 'getting through it' throughout the course of our meeting. It seems to be his mantra. Just get through it, and everything will be alright on the other side. Haywood slept in his car from April of his junior year of high school until December of his senior year, when it got so cold he finally broke down and asked for help. 

    "I didn't think I needed anyone at that point. My grandma had been my caretaker, and when she was gone, I thought I could get by on my own. And I did, for awhile. When my friends got suspicious, I played it cool and told them not to worry. I wasn't worried. Or at least I didn't think I was. I didn't realize how lonely and helpless I was until it got cold."

    His high school offensive coordinator and math teacher, Dee Fisher, was the man he went to for help. Fisher remembers the night well. "I woke up to a knock on my door at about midnight. School was just letting out for the Thanksgiving holiday, and football season was over, so I hadn't seen Adam in about a week. But there he was, a hoodie drawn tightly around his face, standing on my porch. I didn't know what was happening at first. We knew he'd been struggling, but we had no clue he was homeless. He was good about sneaking around and hiding it, I guess. But there was no doubt in my mind that we had to take him in for good when I saw him there. So from that night until he left for college, he stayed with us."

    Fisher became a surrogate father to Haywood over that next spring. When Haywood struggled in school, Fisher tutored him. When Haywood debated where to play ball, Fisher was there with counsel. "Coach Fisher helped me out a lot," Haywood admits with a shrug. "He's my guy. Only person I would die for, and that's a fact." 

     

    Eventually, Signing Day rolled around and Haywood made his decision. Despite interest from much larger schools and being in Ohio State's backyard, Haywood decided to make the trek two hours north to Toledo to play for Coach Deathcpo. When asked about his decision by the local news station after his signing, Haywood shrugged. "I want to go somewhere and be the best ever. So I'm going to Toledo. I'm gonna start from day 1, and I'm gonna ball out from day 1. Watch me."

     

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    Haywood celebrating an INT he returned for a TD. He has 3 pick 6s in just 2 years starting.

     

    While it seemed crazy, Haywood backed his words up by dominating as a freshman during summer camp. Although he was originally slated to only be the fourth corner on the team, he blew away his coaches with his natural ability even as he still was learning the intricacies of a college defense. "We recruited a guy who was one of the best zone corners in high school, and then asked him to play man coverage right out of the gate," Deathcpo explained. "The kid is a phenom."

     

    As he lays on the hood of his car now, hands behind his head and eyes closed, he smiles. "I can do it all," he says confidently. "I may look like a zone guy, but I ain't never played a down of zone coverage since I got here [to Toledo]. And that's a fact."

     

    Haywood took no time becoming the darling of Toledo's defense. As a true freshman, lining up against the best receivers on each team the Rockets faced, Haywood recorded 6 INTs. Whenever he went anywhere on campus, he wore a hoodie with the drawstrings pulled tight so that he wouldn't be pestered by giddy fans. He spent hours upon hours in the film room, dissecting tape with his position coach, and the rest of the time he spent in his dorm, playing NBA 2k19 and avoiding the spotlight. 

     

    The same thing happened in 2019. 6 more interceptions, and still more recognition. Receivers recount tales of his legendary trash-talk. Kenneth Harrison, the Miami Redhawks star receiver, shudders as he thinks back to his only meeting with Haywood. "I was a redshirt freshman, and the man broke me. He was a true freshman who held me to zero catches. I think his hands got on more throws that day than mine did. And before every play, he would give me a grin and ask me when I was gonna make it hard for him. I never did."

     

    As such a vocal player on the field, a casual fan may expect Haywood to eat up the relative fame that came with being one of the stars of a D1 football program, but it was the opposite. Haywood continued to avoid being noticed around the campus, and stuck to the football facilities for most of every day, whether in season or out of season.

     

    When I pressed him about it, he waved me off nonchalantly. "I'm not an ass. I believe I'm the best, but I let my results speak for themselves. I don't need everybody constantly telling me how great I am to keep me going. I never had that growing up, and look where I am. Why would I change that?" He pauses, then expands, to make sure that I know that he's serious. "And I do believe I'm the best. Any cornerback who doesn't believe that about themselves isn't gonna last long."

     

    Throughout his first two years in college, Gloria has remained a fixture in his life. While he has a bed in the football dorms now, he still on occasion naps in her backseat after practices. She keeps him grounded, even as the hype surrounding him continues to build. As he prepares to enter his junior season, he's one of the leaders of the most talented team in the MAC, and Deathcpo has left no doubt about that. Haywood's success will directly affect the Rockets' season.

     

    "I like the pressure. I like being uncomfortable. Nothing big ever comes from being comfortable. I hate working out, lifting weights and all that, but I do it because that's how I get ahead. That's how I become the best. Complacency don't have no place in my life." Haywood slides off the hood of his car and walks around back. He pops the trunk and grabs a sweater, pulls it over his head, and then points at the pile of clothes he pulled it from. "That was my closet at one point. My bedroom was the seats. I didn't get to where I am because life treated me right."

     

    I asked him if he harbored resentment towards life, due to everything it had thrown at him. He considered the question for awhile. "Nah, I got football. I play angry. But off the field, I got good people around me and I want to make them proud. I don't have the time or the energy to be constantly angry. I was raised better than that."

     

    He pats Gloria's roof, then smiles at her like you might imagine a kid smiles at his crush at prom. It was a big, childlike smile. "My grandma gets a lot of the credit for raising me. She was my rock. But when she was gone, all I had was Gloria. And she became my rock." 

     

    I put my things away, shook Haywood's hand, and thanked him for his time. I was thinking about the interview, trying to frame this story about a football player that didn't have much to do with football. It was a curious predicament, but as I turned away, he called my name and I turned back to see him climbing in the door, the grin still plastered on his face.

     

    Then he said it. "Isn't she beautiful?"

     

    I couldn't help but agree.

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