Prior to the New Year, James Haynes felt as if he had a firm grip on how his recruitment would play out.
“LSU and Texas had always been my favorite teams, so I just figured that I would do whatever it took to get an offer from one of those schools,” he said.
Then, at the Army All-American junior combine in San Antonio last January, Haynes had a revelation of sorts.
“We were in a room with hundreds and hundreds of all the best players in the country, and all their parents were there to,” he said. “One of the directors asked every kid in the room who was being recruited to stand up, and everyone stood up. He then asked everyone who was getting letters every week to stand, and the numbers started getting low.”
From there, the four-star realized just how far his talents had taken him.
“They asked all the kids with offers from their favorite schools to stand, and then only a handful of kids were up,” he said. “The last question was to find anyone who had committed to the school of their dreams to stand, and only one kid in the whole place was left. It really put me in a spot to see that playing in college was not all about what team I grew up loving.
“I have some big time offers, and a lot of great coaches out there have been letting me know that I can do big things for them at the next level.”
None are bigger, arguably, than a pair of out-of-state of offers.
“Oklahoma and Florida were two schools that offered back in January, and it really put me in a good spot,” Haynes said. “Those are two National Championship-quality teams – one having won two titles since 2000 and the other having been to a big BCS game something like six times over that stretch.
“Just hearing from those schools threw everything out the window for me,” he added. “There were no favorites after that. I had never seen myself being the type of player that would catch the attention of schools that far away, so it really left in me in shock.”
After turning out All-Combine performances on a number of occasions dating back to the summer after his sophomore year, however, it is no wonder why the junior is turning so many heads.
“I don’t know what it is, but I seem to do big things at those combines – sometimes even things that I don’t get to show on Friday nights,” he said. “Coaches tell me all the time about how they hear what I just pulled off at a combine or what not, so I just take to each opportunity with my best effort. I love to compete, so when I see someone better than me, I have to get out there and shut him down. I want to be on everyone’s level.”
On the track this spring, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound athlete is keeping the ball rolling.
“I just long-jumped a 22.7, which qualified me for State,” Haynes said. “What was crazy is that the best distance before that I had ever recorded was 21.6. For me to better myself by a foot, it showed me something. I can step it up with anything at anytime.”
Even crazier – one might add – is that Haynes made his personal-best jump one month removed from his last competition.
“Our Regional was set for May 15 – Mother’s Day Weekend,” he said. “The swine flu messed things up, though, because someone died in San Antonio, which forced the state to shut down all athletic events. That left almost a month gap between when I jumped for District and then my Regional jump.
“Then, the pit we have at my school is kind of shabby, so I try to avoid jumping in it so I don’t get hurt,” he added with a chuckle. “It kind of put me in a bad spot when I went all that time without jumping, though. It added to my level of surprise when I came up with the 22.7.”
With the secret out on the junior’s abilities, it is safe to say that the Tiger staff will have an eye on Haynes at next weekend’s camp.
“I am really excited to get over there, because I am ready to show out for the new defensive staff,” he said. “I spoke with the coach who is recruiting my area now, and he and my father are old friends. He said that the LSU coaches want to meet me when I get to Baton Rouge, so I am looking forward to it all.
“It is going to be a really big weekend for my recruitment.”
What sort of performance will it take for Haynes, who is ranked as the No. 38 wide receiver prospect in the nation, to land the offer that has long eluded him?
“I think that if I just do my thing, I am going to be fine,” he said. “I know that the staff wants to see me at cornerback, and that is what I am hearing from pretty much every school. Florida was the first to offer and tell me corner was where I should be, and since then it has been all cornerback and free safety talk.”
If the Tigers were to offer, what steps would the staff have to make to catch up with the teams out front?
“A good bit of communication, that is for sure,” Haynes said. “There is still a lot of time, but I just say that out of respect for what the other staffs have done to build relationships with me. Coach Wright at Oklahoma is a good example, because he got me up to campus and met my family and just made sure that we felt at home.
“We have gotten really close since then, and he is the type of guy that I would hang with even if he were not involved in football,” he added. “I want that type of relationship with whichever school I choose.”
With time on their hands, however, Haynes said that the Tigers are in a good place if they choose to move forward with their recruitment of the four-star.
“Being from West Orange and having all my family in Louisiana, LSU really pulls some weight,” he said. “But to get an offer, I would not even know what to say. It would just put a kink in everything.”
If all goes as planned for Haynes, of course, the kink will be welcomed with open arms.