DeionTe Haywood wasn't sure if he was going to play in the NCAA Division II football championship game for Texas A&M-Commerce University.
The 2013 Estancia High graduate said he had suffered a shoulder injury earlier in the season, separating his acromioclavicular joint. He missed the national semifinal, but ended up playing through pain in the title game.
He could be glad he did. After it was all over, he could call himself a champion.
Haywood, a defensive end, helped Texas A&M-Commerce beat West Florida 37-27 for the NCAA Division II title on Dec. 16 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.
"I just tried to fight through that and give everything I could to that game, the last game of the season," Haywood said. "It was a really thrilling experience, actually. Pretty surreal."
Haywood contributed throughout the season for Texas A&M-Commerce (14-1). The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior played in 12 games for the Lions, recording 13 tackles, including nine solo tackles. Two of the tackles were for a loss.
Haywood was playing in his first season for Texas A&M-Commerce. He had 35 tackles and 6½ sacks for Santa Ana College in 2016.
He was a Daily Pilot Dream Team and All-CIF Southern Section Southern Division safety as a senior at Estancia in 2012.
"It was pretty difficult coming out of high school and injuring my back twice," Haywood said. "I almost decided not to play football, but then I was talked into it again by my mom, my friends and a couple of old coaches, like [Estancia football] coach [Mike] Bargas."