Growing up in Raleigh, NC, Phil Haynes never could have imagined eventually being drafted to the NFL.
In fact, Haynes didn’t even start playing football until his senior year of high school after transferring to the Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, VA. Prior to that point, he’d starred on the hardwood as an AAU basketball star, and if not for a rule enforced by his new school, he likely never would’ve put on a helmet and shoulder pads.
“I transferred to a small boarding school in Virginia and they told us that we had to play a sport every season.” Haynes told reporters during a conference call. “I chose football over cross country.”
The decision to give football a try wound up paying off for Haynes and then some, as one season playing defensive end at the Virginia Episcopal School turned into a full scholarship offer from Wake Forest. After redshirting his first year with the Demon Deacons and switching to offensive line, he served as a four-year starter for the cleverly coined “Beef Boys,” beginning his career at right tackle before sliding inside to guard for his last three seasons.
Haynes closed out his collegiate career with back-to-back All-ACC selections, moving up to Second-Team recognition as a senior, quite the feat for a player who exchanged his sneakers for football cleats only five years earlier.
“It was a whirlwind, honestly. I’m in Raleigh now and it just takes me back to that time and honestly, it’s been crazy because I had to gain a bunch of weight. I had to develop more of a toughness attitude because basketball is more of a finesse sport. It’s kind of nice to be able to hit people so that was probably the biggest thing.”
Once viewed as a pipedream at best when he started playing college ball in 2014, the Seahawks selected Haynes with the No. 124 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
“It was amazing. I was hoping that Seattle would take me with that pick and it was a dream come true to get that phone call.”
The Seahawks have always been enamored by competitive multi-sport athletes and their interest in a former basketball standout like Haynes shouldn’t be surprising on numerous fronts.
Only a few short years ago, Seattle signed former Western Kentucky basketball star George Fant as an undrafted free agent. Though Fant had played only one year of college football and didn’t have any experience playing offensive line, he started 10 games as a rookie and served a valuable role as a sixth lineman for the team in 2018.
With Mike Solari now entering his second season as Seattle’s line coach, the team has also transitioned towards preferring big-bodied maulers such as D.J. Fluker and Mike Iupati at the guard positions. Now weighing 322 pounds with a 6-foot-4 frame capable of carrying more mass, the Seahawks view the physical Haynes as the perfect fit to develop into an eventual starter in the interior.
“Phil is a guy that we targeted early because of his makeup and his style of play.” Carroll said following the conclusion of the draft. “He’s going to be 340 pounds. He’s a really strong, really physical guy. He likes to finish blocks and knock guys down. He’s got an attitude about him.”
Carroll and general manager John Schneider identified the hulking Haynes as a player they wanted early in the pre-draft process, inviting him to Seattle for one of their top-30 visits. It became apparent to Haynes during this meeting that landing with the Seahawks would be an ideal fit for both parties.
“Competition is a big deal for them. I love competition as you can imagine playing basketball and football. I think that’s a big part of who I am. But I know they also love to run the ball and I love doing that too.”
While Fant was forced to jump into the water feet first with no experience, Haynes holds a distinct advantage heading into his NFL career with Seattle, as he blocked some of the best defensive linemen in the country in the highly-competitive ACC. Most notably, he played several games against defending national champion Clemson, holding his own in the trenches against 2019 first round picks Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.
Now that he’s officially a member of the Seahawks as he hoped for, Haynes will have his work cut out for him carving out a role up front in the short-term. Seattle has four of its five starters from last year’s playoff team returning and Iupati was signed as a reliable veteran replacement for J.R. Sweezy, leaving the ex-hardwood star fighting for a reserve job from the outset barring injuries.
But given his size, intelligence, and physical style of play that the Seahawks covet in the trenches, Haynes should be well-positioned to develop under Solari’s tutelage during his rookie campaign and eventually ascend into the starting lineup at either guard spot in the near future.