By Thomas Sellers Jr.
March 2020 was a shock to the system for the entire world with the beginning of a global pandemic.
In a small Tipton County town in West Tennessee, Gavin Haynes was trying to make sense of the world’s new norms. Would he be able to finish his junior year at Brighton High School? No.
Would things be back to normal by August to start his senior year? Not really.
Will his recruitment in either football or wrestling go smoothly throughout the rest of 2020 into 2021?
“I have filled out several football questionnaires for the colleges that I am interested in playing for. I am working on sending some emails out to coaches. There are lots of players hoping for the college football camps to open up this summer, so we can show our skills to be recruited.”
The 17-year-old was on pace at the beginning of 2020 after a solid junior campaign on the gridiron and another Regional appearance in wrestling. His efforts on the field and the mat earned him a nomination for 2020 Millington Star Male Athlete of the Year.
The son of Ashley and Jon McGrath racked up other honors like All-Region linebacker, sack leader for the Cardinals in 2020 and State wrestling qualifier. With an impressive resume’ to attract most colleges, Haynes released once the letters and messages stopped this past summer he needed to focused on the agenda right in front him.
“When we began to play, the goal was not to worry about what is happening around the world and to keep us as a team in the mindset of winning,” he said.
The Cardinal Football team managed to get a season on record and earned a playoff birth this past season. Haynes was used as a linebacker, defensive end and even saw snaps in the secondary. Along with his pressure on quarterbacks, Haynes was one of the leading tacklers for Brighton. He also had a touchdown return against Millington.
“This year honestly could not have gotten any crazier,” Haynes acknowledged. “We didn’t have a full schedule. We didn’t get to work as a team in the summer. The worst part is that we weren’t able to have more games to help us get our stats higher.”
Brighton earned two additional games by beating Dyer County in the first round of the playoffs. The Cardinals were eliminated in the second round by the Henry County Patriots.
Haynes said he was glad to make some extra memories with his Cardinal brothers on the field but his immediate reflections of 2020 came off the gridiron.
“There were two big differences,” he started. “This summer we were not able to be with our whole team everyday like we used to be, so the team’s chemistry took longer to get together.
“Most players use the fans and the environment around them to elevate their game,” Haynes continued. “But it was more difficult to do with low attendance. The moms in the crowd did an amazing job cheering us on taking up the slack of lack of fans.”
Haynes said a lot of players hit the field on Friday nights to make their moms, dads, school, peers and community proud.
“The worst thing for me is that so many of my family members could not go because of Corona,” he recalled. “At one game, my Grandpa had to sit outside the fence on top of his truck with binoculars. There was just so many rules and safety measures made it hard on everyone.”
But in a season full of challenges and new rules, the two-sport standout said a few good things emerged out of the darkness.
“The best blessing was to be able to get on the field and play,” he said. “So many schools around the USA did not even get to snap the football, right next door in Memphis. I am just very happy that in my senior year I could play another game.”
Haynes should have had one more game after the season. On pace to be a selection for the 2020 Liberty Bowl High School All-Star Game played annually the second Saturday in December, Haynes and his peers knew the game was canceled.
“If I had made it to the All-Star game, that would have definitely helped me get my name out to more recruiters,” he said. “That just means now I have to reach out to many schools to get them interested.
Haynes is not giving up on his dream of competing on the collegiate level in either football or wrestling. With traditional avenues to college closed for the Class of 2021, Haynes is taking his work-ethic to the recruitment trail.
“When the pandemic hit around this area everything started to close affecting many people,” he recalled. “It made it so I could not go to gyms or even to the schools to workout. So working out took determination at home and that can make a difference in the season.
“It closed all college football camps, decreasing my chances of being seen for recruitment,” Haynes continued. “Also college campus tours were cancelled.”
Haynes has teamed up with his parents and coaches throughout Tipton County to formulate a new approach for his recruitment. Haynes even joined the rival Munford Cougars for wrestling to have a senior season.
Haynes said he is motivated by something within to pursue his passion on the mat and gridiron.
“The love of sports and playing football keeps me going,” he said, “and knowing that we will get back to normal. Also, my mother and father are very supportive, and push me to be the best I can be.”
Like several other Americans, Haynes sees the impact of the pandemic on other aspects of life. He has noticed how his peers have lost proms, traditional school events and other sports have been altered.
He also pays attention to the growing numbers of infections and deaths caused by COVID-19.
“Honestly it is hard to stay positive in this situation,” he said. “I think about how many people have it harder than me, so I don’t take anything for granted and just always look on the bright side of things.”
The hope of Haynes hasn’t changed from March 11, 2020.
“My hopes and dreams are to play for college football while receiving a degree,” Haynes concluded. “A coach should look at me because I am a motivated hardworking student/athlete. I truly have leadership skills and can bring a positive attitude to help build any team.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.