Michael Haynes, North Gwinnett
The bookends to North Gwinnett's football season, a win over Colquitt County in the Corky Kell Classic opener and a state quarterfinal loss to Lovejoy, gave us two different looks from quarterback Michael Haynes.
The Bulldog senior was Gwinnett's most impressive dual-threat quarterback for eight-plus games, then he was injured early in a Nov. 2 win over Mountain View. He played sparingly the next week against Peachtree Ridge, then was a severely hobbled version of his former self in playoff games with Johns Creek, Grayson and Lovejoy.
How bad was it? Haynes played the last three games, including a 28-10 upset win over defending state champion Grayson, with a broken leg. It wasn't certain that he would play in the Grayson game until late in the game week. He still played well enough to help North to two playoff victories and did his best in last Friday's loss.
"I just know the kid's a gutsy performer," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "He's a team-first guy. He wanted to be out there on the field helping his team any way he could."
If the fractured fibula had occurred early in the season, Haynes likely would have sat out a stretch of games to allow healing. But given the timing of the injury, with North gearing up for the state playoffs, Haynes didn't consider that option. He was a senior and he planned to play through the pain.
"It got pretty bad," said Haynes, who has FCS offers in football and also has college options in baseball. "It would settle down some and then every Friday going full speed, full contact aggravated it. But most of the time it was manageable."
Haynes got medical clearance to play with the injury because it wasn't going to get worse. It was essentially up to whether he could handle playing with the pain.
He wore a boot non-stop, taking it off only for games and practices. He was limited the first few days of practice each week, which allowed him to recover from the contact of the previous Friday's game. Teammates even carried him to his car after practice to save him steps.
Despite the limitations, Haynes played his heart out in the season's final games. An athletic Lovejoy defense put constant heat on him as he hobbled all over the field, clearly unable to escape a pass rush like he could earlier in the season.
Would a healthy Haynes have made a difference in that game? I think so. I think North may still be playing this week with the dimension he adds to the running game.
We'll never know the answer to that for sure, but we can praise Haynes for gutting it out when his teammates needed him.
"We had to put everything on the line at the end of the season," Haynes said. "You couldn't have pulled me off the field if you tried."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.