Walk-on Enjoys Proving He Belongs

Auburn, Ala.--On opening night when the Tigers open the 2006 football season with a nationally televised game against Washington State, the Auburn sideline will be full of excited football players.

One of those Tigers, a fifth-year senior walk-on wearing No. 36, is unlikely to have his name mentioned by the television crew covering the game on ESPN2 or by any of the sportswriters covering the action. However, for safety Brant Haynie, that's fine. Just getting a chance to run down the field while trying to make a play on special teams as part of one of the top major college programs in the country is satisfaction enough.

"I realize not everybody knows who I am, but that is okay," he says. "I just wanted to prove to myself that I could compete at this level and I enjoy getting the chance to do it."

The 5-10, 190-pounder from Gadsden High School could be on the field for the opening play of the 2006 season. "Right now I am just on the kickoff coverage and punt return teams," he says. "I am a backup on the kickoff return team. I am just hoping to go out there and play what small part that I can.

"I got to do that last year, too," notes Haynie. "The first game I started was the Ball State game so for the most part of the season I got to go out there and do it. It is fun to make the travel squad and get out there as a walk-on and be a part of the big game.

"In the past I have played some at safety," he adds. "We like to call them courtesy minutes. You kind of go in late in the game, but it is good to run out there and play on the opening kickoff. You feel a lot more important."

With two safeties moving to linebacker this year combined with injuries to others at the position, Haynie and another walk-on safety, 5-11, 196 junior Josh Hebert from Houston, got to see significant action as backups in the secondary during preseason drills. "That was a lot of fun," Haynie says. "I have been around a while and I have basically conceded the fact that my role on the team is playing on special teams, but we had some guys who got hurt so I was the next on the list and Coach (Will Muschamp) would throw me in there.

"I feel like I did okay," Haynie says. "I know I am not going to get 50 or 60 snaps in a game, but I feel like I can compete at a level to where I can be a legitimate backup if something happens and I am needed."

Haynie notes that new secondary coach and defensive coordinator, Muschamp, has challenged everybody in the secondary, including the walk-ons, to be ready to help the team if called on.

"He is a tough coach," Haynie says. "He demands perfection, which at this level, I guess, is what you have got to have. He has definitely been encouraging. Coming in new it is hard for him. He has a lot of pressure. He has job to do."

Muschamp says he enjoys coaching Haynie. "He has done an outstanding job," the coach says. "He is a tremendous worker. He is a guy who has persevered here through an awful lot and has contributed on special teams.

"If we were in a position to play some safety with him, it could certainly happen," Muschamp adds. "He is a guy who has worked awfully hard to get what he has earned. He will be playing in front of 90,000 people living the dream."

A 2002 graduate of Gadsden High where he played cornerback and wide receiver, Haynie had scholarship offers to smaller programs, but was not considered a prospect at the SEC level. He considered colleges like Samford and Furman before deciding to walk-on at Auburn, his childhood favorite program.

"I had family down here and I always followed Auburn football," he points out. "I am extremely glad I did it. I think a lot of people come in naive as a walk-on and expect on the first day to be dressing out with the team. I think it helped me that I came in knowing what to expect. I knew I would be the lowest of the low for x amount of days.

"I told myself that I wouldn't look into the future too far. I just kind of said I am going to look at the schedule for tomorrow and do whatever I have got to do tomorrow. If I ever wake up one morning and decide that is not what I want to do, or if it is interfering with my academics to the point where it is detrimental, I was going to give it up. Fortunately, that day hasn't come up and it has worked out for me to play on special teams. It is fun being out there."

Haynie, who is scheduled to graduate in December, notes that he is very serious about his academics. "The hardest thing I have had to do is balance my academics and football," he says. "I will graduate in biomedical science. That is a difficult degree. I have done okay. I have like a 3.6 gpa and I am hoping to go to dental school. I am hoping to start that next fall. I also have a minor in Spanish."

Any walk-on at a demanding football program like the one that Tommy Tuberville runs has to show a lot of perseverance. That has been especially true for Haynie.

"I knew I didn't fit the mold of an SEC football player with my size," Haynie says. "I am not slow by any means though. I ran a 4.6 40 in high school and on kickoffs I am down there on coverage just as fast as everybody else. Because I didn't fit the mould, I knew I had to really prove myself. I had been here a couple of years and I had seen other guys who had walked on and played special teams and I felt like I had the same level of skill they did so I could do it, too.

"I talked to Coach (Eddie) Gran about it and he basically told me what he probably told everybody else. He said you might have to wait a little longer than somebody who is on scholarship, but when you get your chance you have got to make something happen. Unfortunately, the first time it happened I blew my knee out."

The injury came his redshirt freshman season in 2003 in Auburn's blowout homecoming victory vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Then secondary coach Gene Chizik told Haynie that he was to stay on the field and play safety after the kickoff he was covering, but the injury prevented that.

When it happened, the injury didn't seem to be a major problem to the walk-on, but the news he got was not good. He had suffered a torn ACL and that was it for his 2003 season. "It was another kind of obstacle to get through," the senior remembers. "I felt like I had worked my way up and then something like that happens and it puts you out for six months to a year. That was tough to get through that, but it is one of those things where you just have to keep pecking away at it.

"I had surgery in November," he notes. "I didn't really go through spring practice and as a walk-on that is really when you have to make a name for yourself. The next year, as a (redshirt) sophomore, I was still wearing a big knee brace throughout the year. I felt good. I still played in three or four games if we were winning by a large amount. I was hoping I would play as much as I did the year before that, but after having surgery it was hard to really get out there and play, especially being the type of player that I am. The coach wants to make sure that somebody like me is full speed. If I have a knee brace on running out there, no matter how much I tell them I am full speed, they are going to be more hesitant to put me out there. It was hard, but I definitely feel I got back to full speed. The surgery went well."

In addition to his studies and playing football, Haynie has been an active member in Auburn's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In July, Chette Williams, who runs AU's FCA program, came to Gadsden to marry Haynie and Katie Ellis, the football player's high school sweetheart. "I was happy that Chette came up and did the wedding," Haynie says. "It was really good. I have been involved in the FCA since I have been here so I have gotten pretty close to Chette. It was really neat for him to come up there and do that."

Muschamp notes that Haynie is good to have on the roster because he can play both free safety and strong safety in addition to helping on special teams. "He is a smart player who understands his limitations and puts himself in position to make plays," the coach says. "He is a guy we could certainly rely on to play."

Despite all of the hard work involved for relatively little playing time, along with the frustration of suffering a major knee injury, Haynie says that he might a wise choice when he was a high school senior about where to attend college. "I am glad I came to Auburn. It was the right place for me. I enjoy playing football here and I am just thankful for every opportunity I have."

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