Originally created 10/18/01

Unheralded fullback becoming a star for Bulldogs



ATHENS, Ga. -- In the annals of Georgia running backs, Herschel Walker and Garrison Hearst are among the first names that come to mind.

Verron Haynes prefers to focus on guys such as Olandis Gary and Robert Arnaud.

Hey, they didn't put up huge numbers in college, either, but went on to make it in the NFL.

"Not every Georgia running back has the career of Herschel Walker or Garrison Hearst, but we're all hard workers," said Haynes, the Bulldogs' senior fullback. "If you believe in us and give us a chance, we'll get the job done."

Haynes has always been regarded as more of a blocking back at Georgia, where he has only 22 carries in his three-year career (He played at Division I-AA Western Kentucky as a freshman).

But Haynes made one of the biggest catches in school history - a 6-yard touchdown with five seconds left to beat then-No. 6 Tennessee - and is getting a larger role in the offense with top rusher Musa Smith hindered by a groin injury.

Coach Mark Richt said Haynes could play both fullback and tailback when the No. 17 Bulldogs (4-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) meet Kentucky on Saturday.

"If you make plays, you'll get the ball," Haynes said. "Coach Richt said to me last week, 'Get ready. You're going to be used a little bit more."'

The coach kept his word in a victory over Vanderbilt. Haynes had a career-high seven carries and caught a 43-yard pass that set up a field goal just before halftime.

That performance was viewed by former Georgia assistant Dale Strahm, now a scout with the Denver Broncos. He may have found another sleeper.

Terrell Davis, who was overshadowed in Georgia's pass-oriented offense of the early '90s, was drafted in the sixth round by the Broncos and became an All-Pro.

When Davis got hurt a couple of years ago, Denver turned to another Georgia back. Gary, a fourth-round pick, put up a 1,000-yard season.

Gary played in the Bulldogs backfield with Arnaud, who wasn't even drafted but caught on Tampa Bay's practice squad.

Richt realizes now that he should have been getting the ball to Haynes more often.

"He's been underutilized from the beginning," Richt said. "He's always produced in the practices and scrimmages."

Richt believes the 5-foot-11, 223-pound Haynes has a career waiting for him after college.

"He doesn't have game-breaker speed, but he has good speed," the coach said. "He has great balance and the ability to break tackles. He's an outstanding goal-line runner. I think the NFL is going to be very interested in Verron. He's a very versatile guy."

Haynes' teammates aren't surprised by his success.

"He never got the ball much," quarterback David Greene said. "But we all realized how good he is. He plays with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion."

Haynes' season got off to a shaky start. He was suspended from the opener against Arkansas State after an argument with the mother of his child led to a guilty plea on three misdemeanor charges.

Haynes apologized for the incident and believes he learned a valuable lesson.

"Sometimes, we go through situations that make us better," he said. "This season has really been a blessing for me. I'm very thankful for all my success."

Haynes still gets asked all the time about his catch against Tennessee, when he slipped over the line of scrimmage without getting noticed and found himself wide open in the middle of the end zone.

"It seemed like time just froze," Haynes recalled. "I'm just blessed that the Lord let me catch the ball instead of vice versa. I could have been remembered as the guy who dropped it."

As it turned out, he didn't drop the ball until he got back to his own bench.

"When I came the sidelines, everybody tackled me and I lost it," Haynes recalled. "That would have been a good one to have."

All in all, though, the last couple of weeks have been quite satisfying for the Bronx native. He's still gloating about the New York Yankees rallying to beat Oakland in the first round of the baseball playoffs.

"Even when they were down 0-2, I knew they were going to do it," he said. "I have confidence in them."

Haynes has confidence in himself, too. He's so secure that he doesn't mind whether he carries the ball or blocks for someone else.

"If you call on me to block the whole game, I'll do that," Haynes said. "A fullback is happy if he gets two or three carries a game."

Richt, in his first season with the Bulldogs, wishes he could have Haynes for a few more years.

"I'll take a Verron Haynes at fullback every year," the coach said. "You can win with him."



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