Featured Future is a summer series where the Observer will highlight local student athletes who are preparing to continue their athletic and educational careers at the college level, or those who have already begun that journey.
DJ Haynes was a dual sport athlete in high school, transferring from Corcoran High School in Syracuse to Plant City High School in the fall of his junior year and quickly becoming a standout on both the Raiders’ football team as an outside linebacker and their basketball team as a guard.
In April, Haynes committed to play football at Tennessee Tech University as the Golden Eagles look to improve on a 3-8 record in 2021 under third-year head coach and TTU alumnus Dewayne Alexander.
“As an athlete he became a better player with age,” Plant City’s head basketball coach Billy Teeden said. “But more so it was his personality, I think. Once he got comfortable with everybody here, that developed which inevitably made him a better player. He got comfortable, he developed friendships, I saw that more than his playing ability just getting better. I think the personal side of it really allowed him to shine.”
On the basketball court, Haynes was a major contributor that led to the Raiders’ 20-8 record and their appearance in the regional quarterfinals last season. Leading the team in nearly every statistical category, he finished the year with a team-high 17.1 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game, 2.2 steals per game and did so with a 51 percent field goal percentage, the second-highest mark on the team.
“He was a very good leader, Teeden said. “He was a quiet leader, he read by example, but kids respected him. He kept the pace of how things went and they looked up to him, he led by example for sure. He’s going to be missed. He led us in every category but he did it with ease and it’ll really be hard to replace that. You could watch the game, look down at the stat sheet and see 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds and it doesn’t even look like he broke a sweat sometimes.”
On the football field, Haynes was a force on the Raiders’ defense during his breakout senior season. While traditionally used as an edge rusher, he was a versatile defender who was able to move around and play multiple roles along the defensive line and in the secondary for Plant City, finishing the season with 90 tackles while leading a tough district with eight sacks and 24 tackles for loss. As a result, he garnered a first-team selection in the Western Conference’s Federal Division and a nomination for PrimeTimePreps’ Hillsborough County Defensive Player of the Year award.
“On the football side of it, I knew when he got here that he said he had played some football and he obviously had great size but I didn’t realize how good he was until I got to see him play in the spring,” Teeden said. “He moved well and with football you alway wonder how tough are they, do they really want to go make a tackle and things like that. But he puts his head in there and he’s very, very good.