NATURAL CHOICE : For Dave Haight, Family Tie Results in Playing for Iowa

Often, when a football player in the 1980s finishes an outstanding high school career, he plays the college recruiting game for all it's worth. He makes the six campus visits allowed by the NCAA, listens carefully to the sales pitches and picks the school that can do the most for him. Some continue visiting schools after they already have made a choice.

It might not matter where the player grew up. Childhood loyalty can be secondary to being on a winning team, the opportunity for television exposure and other factors.

But Dave Haight, star nose guard of Iowa's football team, took a novel approach. When he was attending Beckman High School in Dyersville, Iowa, his mind was made up long before college recruiters started calling. He was so determined to go to Iowa that he paid no attention to letters from other schools.

It wasn't only that Haight had been a lifelong Hawkeye fan, or that Iowa had been a consistent winner under Coach Hayden Fry. He was sold because his older brother, Mike, was an offensive tackle at Iowa from 1982 through 1985 and was a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 1986.

"After my brother started at Iowa, there was no choice to be made," said Haight, who will play against Wyoming at 4:30 p.m Wednesday in the Holiday Bowl. "I knew then that if I didn't go to Iowa, I wouldn't go anywhere to college. I'd go back home to Dyersville. The lure of Iowa was that great for me.

"So when I got letters from other schools, I never answered them. I visited Iowa, and that was it. Some schools sent second letters, saying they hoped I didn't base my decision on my brother being at Iowa. I didn't answer them, either."

It isn't necessarily routine for an athlete to follow his brother to a given school. Many make it a point to go elsewhere.

There are two such examples at Iowa now. Both quarterback Chuck Hartlieb and linebacker John Derby have brothers who play at Wisconsin. The same was true of Ken Sims, a cornerback on the Hawkeye team that edged San Diego State, 35-34, in the Holiday Bowl last year.

"Basically, I've been following Iowa quite a few years," Haight said. "When my brother was in his freshman year, he liked the school, and he was happy with the football program. If he hadn't been so positive about it, I probably would have thought differently."

Haight, who red-shirted his freshman season, is a senior with a year's eligibility remaining. He is a 6-feet 4-inches and 270 pounds and seems ideally equipped to follow his big brother into the NFL. He has been a first team all-Big Ten selection two straight seasons and made The Sporting News' second All-American team this year.

"Naturally, the NFL is my goal," Haight said. "They say it's really a lottery, that less than 1% of the college players make it in the pros. I just hope I win the lottery.

"Right now, I'd say my chances are fairly good. I think I'm pretty much on a par with where my brother was at this stage of his career. The important thing for me is to continue to improve.

"As far as weight is concerned, that's not a factor. I don't want to get any bigger."

Nose guard, called nose tackle in the NFL, is considered by many to be the toughest and most dangerous position to play.

"I don't know if it's the most dangerous position, but it's tough," Haight said. "You get double-teamed a lot, and one blocker might get you high while another one drops at your knees. You could end up losing your career at an early age. But then, you could get hit by a car while crossing the street.

"Actually, I wouldn't mind playing anywhere in the defensive line. Whether I play in a three-man front or a four-man, it doesn't matter to me. Nose guard is one of the toughest positions on the field. If I can do that, I feel I can play any line position."

The Haight brothers had some interesting moments when they faced each other in practice two years ago.

"We usually livened up the workout when we went one-on-one," Dave said. "It was only in drills, not in live scrimmages, because I was in the middle, and he was outside. But there were times when we had some pretty good exchanges. You can't act like you're afraid, you know.

"But Mike and I have always been real close. We still talk on the phone a lot."

Close, but not so close that they wound up on the same side of the line of scrimmage.

"I liked defense better in high school," Dave Haight said. "It was such a small school that we played both ways. When Iowa recruited me, they asked what I preferred. I picked defense because you get to use your personality more. You can be more aggressive. You can use your hands, and you can do just about anything as long as you stay away from a blocker's head. An offensive player has to be careful about being caught holding."

Iowa brings a 9-3 record to the Holiday Bowl, and as is usually the case with Fry's teams, defense is its primary asset. But the Hawkeyes dropped from first place to third in the Big Ten defensive rankings this year, so Haight thinks that they have some things to prove against a Wyoming team that relies heavily on the pass.

"It will be a real challenge, too," Haight said. "It seems like Wyoming throws the ball a lot more than anybody in the Big Ten. They have an excellent quarterback (Craig Burnett), and he gets rid of the ball exceptionally fast. He doesn't operate like a standard drop-back passer. As a result, their pass routes are run on timing, and they're very good at it.

"But they aren't just a passing team. They also have a 1,000-yard rusher (Gerald Abraham), so they're definitely going to give us some problems. They have a novel blocking scheme in their passing game too. They bunch in close together like they're in field goal protection. That way, nobody breaks through and gets penetration.

"We're confident, though. We have a good football team and a great coach. I don't know any other big-time coach, but Coach Fry has to be at the top of the list."

Holiday Bowl Notes

Jay Hess, a senior from Montgomery, Tex., will replace Dwight Sistrunk at free safety for Iowa, and Sean Ridley, a junior from Omaha, will replace Joe Mott at left end, defensive coordinator Bill Brashier said Saturday. Sistrunk and Mott, along with reserve defensive lineman Paul Glonek, were suspended from the team for undisclosed disciplinary reasons and did not make the trip to San Diego, Hawkeye Coach Hayden Fry said. Fry declined Saturday to specify what rules the players had violated that led to their suspension. "That would be embarrassing to the players," he said. "They were hurt enough by not being able to play in the ball game."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World