From the archives of the Forsyth County News comes a picture of a pioneer. He sits at a table in front of a custom-printed poster with the Ohio State University logo that reads, GO BUCKEYES. He wears a red Ohio State baseball cap and hooded sweatshirt. Earlier, someone handed him a pair of Buckeyes boxer shorts. He is writing his name on his national letter of intent, about to become a Division I college football player, one of the most unique ever, and Pinecrest Academy knows it. That’s why a dozen friends are crammed around him at the table. Their smiles are bigger than his. This will be the day they always remember their classmate signed to play football at Ohio State. They were there.
Now Bryce Haynes is here, at the pinnacle moment of the college football season. He is the starting long snapper for the No. 4-seeded Buckeyes (13-1), who will face No. 2 Oregon (13-1) on Monday in the first-ever College Football Playoff Championship at 8:30 p.m., at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
But the tremors are still felt in Forsyth County from that day in 2011.
There had been long snappers to come out of Forsyth County before Haynes, but never one like him.
At Ohio State’s National Signing Day press conference in 2011, former Buckeyes running backs coach Dick Tressel showed local media Haynes’ high school highlight tape.
"We’ll let his skills let you see why we signed this young man," Tressel said.
He pressed play, and there was Haynes at Pinecrest in wide screen projected on a white board behind Tressel. It showed snap after snap. After one particularly swift snap, Tressel stopped the tape.
"You can’t really see that one, can you?" he said.
Tressel hit rewind and showed it again.
"It’s right there in the window every time," Tressel said.
After Haynes’ highlight tape was done, Tressel took questions from the reporters gathered in front of him. One asked Tressel about how the coaching staff came to the decision to give Haynes a full scholarship, and it was a reasonable question at the time, for the Buckeyes were breaking the conventions of big-time football recruiting. Long snappers didn’t get full scholarships before 2011. Even the best were recruited as walk-ons that might later be put on scholarship.
Haynes was different. Ohio State asked its long snappers to shoot for getting the ball to the kicker in two seconds. Haynes, Tressel said, did it in 1.55 seconds.
But Haynes could do more than just snap the ball faster than any other high school senior in the country. He was 6-foot-4, 185-pounds. He could block, run and tackle. Here was the first long snapper worth a full scholarship, and Ohio State wasn’t the only school that thought so. Arkansas and Michigan State and Notre Dame did too.
When he eventually signed with the Buckeyes, he became the first Pinecrest football player to do so with a football program above Division III.
And a whole county took notice.
Another big game
West Virginia junior long snapper John DePalma (Pinecrest Academy) said on his own signing day in 2012: "Bryce was pretty much the reason I came into long snapping. He encouraged me to do it."
Vanderbilt freshman long snapper Davis Winkie (South Forsyth) on Twitter: "So happy for [Bryce] & his family. His father is the one who referred me to the camps that made me the snapper I am."
Indeed, a precedent was set in stone that day in 2011 for Forsyth County. Traces of it can be found on current college football rosters and Chris Rubio long snapper prospect rankings – Jake Abraham (South) at Georgia Southern, Clay Barton (North Forsyth) at Army and six local high school long snappers ranked among the best in the country for their respective class.
Haynes hears sound bytes about the local long snapper talent from his father, Billy, but he wishes he knew more.
"I love to hear about it," Haynes said.
Haynes’ career has given validation to hyper-specialization that’s come to long snapping.
After redshirting his freshman year, Haynes shared long snapping duties with his best friend, George Makridis. He graduated, and now Haynes has been the full-time long snapper, riding along with Ohio State on a whirlwind season, through the hiccup of a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6 to an ever-promising recovery that built over the course of wins against Michigan State (49-37) on Nov. 8, Wisconsin (59-0) in the B1G Championship Game and then Alabama (42-35) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day.
"Being at Ohio State, you play in a lot of big games, a lot of nationally-televised games where there’s a lot of pressure," Haynes said. "I’d hate to go into this game having not played in those games. That might be worrisome. But I’m not too worried about that."
No, Haynes left his worries behind in Ghana, where he’s gone on medical missions with his father, an orthopedic surgeon, giving deep joint injections and cortisone shots; in Peru, where he’s spent spring breaks delivering supplies to the orphanage where his older sister worked; around Columbus, Ohio, where he’s read to elementary students through The Second & 7 Foundation; and at nearby hospitals, where he’s visited with patients. He was one of 12 finalists for the 2014 Wuerffel Trophy for his community service.
"I feel like you just get a different perspective," Haynes said.
A day to always remember
Back to that picture. The one from that February morning in 2011, the one before Haynes had added 25 pounds of muscle or run through the tunnel at The Shoe or found himself here at the final step of college football’s beautiful and long-awaited new creation. Where will those boys from that picture be on Monday? They will be in front of a television, looking for Haynes on punts and field goals and extra-points. It will be the day they always remember their former classmate played in the College Football Playoff Championship. They were there.