Buckeye Catholic on a Mission

Ohio State University senior Bryce Haynes uses football as a platform for his faith.

Ohio State’s Bryce Haynes (41) heads downfield after a punt in a game against Virginia Tech.
Ohio State’s Bryce Haynes (41) heads downfield after a punt in a game against Virginia Tech. (photo: Ohio State University)

The No. 1-ranked Ohio State University football team has been unstoppable this season. With eight victories and no losses as of press time, many expect the Buckeyes to repeat as NCAA champions. Regardless of whether that happens, red-shirt senior long-snapper Bryce Haynes has been pleased with his tenure at Ohio State.

In addition to the Buckeyes’ 52-10 record in his time with the team, as of press time, Haynes has also done well in the classroom. He completed his undergraduate biology degree last school year as a three-time All-Big Ten Academic honoree, and he plans on attending medical school next fall.

Caring for the sick and injured is nothing new to Haynes, who has been on several medical missions with his father, Dr. William Haynes Jr., an orthopedic surgeon. Interest in medicine has accompanied interest in football since the younger Haynes’ childhood. His father, who worked with high-school football teams, would take his son to Friday night games all over his home state of Georgia.

Bryce Haynes recently spoke of his longtime interest in football and medicine, in the context of his Catholic faith, with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.


Were you as surprised as most people at the Buckeyes’ national championship last season?

Last season was very unusual, in that we lost two starting quarterbacks. That’s rare for any football team, but even rarer is winning a national championship after that. It’s safe to say that we were a little surprised by the whole thing, but looking back, I can see how it happened. We were struck with adversity, but instead of letting it get us down, we used it to get even better. We grew closer as a team and really surprised a lot of people with our great play.


Of all the sports to play, what was it that caught your attention about football?

I did have fun playing other sports as a kid, but football was something that I grew up absolutely loving to be a part of. My father, who is an orthopedic surgeon, helped out high-school football teams, so he would take me with him on Friday nights to countless games. We would throw the football back and forth on the sidelines, and I just loved it. Because of that interaction with my father, football was all I really wanted to do, as far as sports go. It was a part of me, something I lived and breathed.

I grew up following the Atlanta Falcons closely, so I’m excited about their play this year. Under new head coach Dan Quinn, the team has been playing much better than in 2014 and 2013.

I’m looking forward to the rest of their season, because I think they can go really far.


Since you grew up in Georgia, how did you decide to attend Ohio State?

As a senior in high school, I was recruited by some schools and got scholarship offers from a few. My top schools — not just for football, but overall — were Notre Dame, Michigan State, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard.

At first, I didn’t give Ohio State enough credit for academics, so despite the fact that I really liked the football program, I didn’t consider the school at the top of my list. I prayed about it; and then looked into it more and realized Ohio State did have phenomenal academics, in addition to its first-class football program. That’s what led me here, and I’m happy with that choice.


In July, you participated in the “Rosary Rally” sponsored by SportsLeader. Did you find that to be an effective faith-sharing experience?

It was a fantastic experience. We had 400 to 500 high-school football students from Ohio come together in Columbus for confession, Mass, Rosary and testimonials. I spoke about being a Catholic football player, and so did my buddy Joe Burger, who is a linebacker on our team. It was cool to see so many young men actively participating in the sacraments and praying the powerful collection of prayers found in the Rosary. The prayers are so basic, but I think lots of students still aren’t familiar with how they come together in the Rosary, so it was enjoyable to help make those prayers better known and used.

I had been a part of SportsLeader since my high-school days at Pinecrest Academy in Georgia. Our basketball coach, Andres Montana, who was also our dean, was more interested in forming us as young men than as great athletes. Having character matter more than results is a great way to give kids confidence. Then you just try to do the right things, rather than strain for a specific result that might be out of your reach. It’s a strong mindset, instead of one that’s grasping and off-center.


Do you find that prayer helps to keep you centered on Christ?

No question. I think the most important thing in keeping the faith is daily prayer. Spending at least 30 minutes in prayer every day is so important. Some people might think 30 minutes is a long time, but it’s really not. It’s only 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening. That’s nothing compared to the many hours that can be spent on school or football.

Prayer helped me make the right decision, as far as attending Ohio State, and it helps me make other decisions, too. Prayer is indispensable, and it helps us receive the sacraments better. Prayer and the sacraments are an unbeatable combination for gaining strength to live the lives we should. Almost everyone knows, at least in a general way, what’s right and wrong, but having the will to do the right thing is not as easy as knowing the right thing. That’s why prayer and the sacraments are so important.

I think everyone can look back and see that the times they slid in their faith were also the times they were not praying as they should have been. The opposite of this is also true — when we pray well, we live well.


One way you’ve lived well is by going on mission trips. What did you learn from them?

I’ve been to Nicaragua and Peru once each, and then to Ghana three different times. In Nicaragua, we were in a very rural, poor area. To give you an idea of how poor it was, there was a house made of one wall and a tarp coming from the top of the wall down to the ground at an angle. That was it. The school there was not spectacular either, so we built a new one. It was a worthwhile thing to leave behind something that will last.

In Ghana, the missions were medically oriented. Their health care, while improving, is not the best. We saw and helped people with problems, some of which they had gotten from other medical personnel. There was a 13-year-old boy walking with a cane because of an injection someone had given him improperly. Seeing him and others like him makes you grateful for what you have. You stop seeing things as automatic; you see that they’re gifts from God.

Another good thing about the mission trips is seeing that the Catholic Church is all over the world. The Mass might be in a language you don’t know, but you do know the Eucharist. That’s common to all of us.


Do you plan on becoming a doctor like your father?

I do. I might be able to play in the NFL, but what’s more likely is starting medical school next fall. I was made very comfortable with football because of my father, and the same can be said of medicine. It’s a skill you can take anywhere and help people with.

You could also say that what my father has done for my outlook on football and medicine, both he and my mother have done for my outlook on religion. My mother is a lifelong Catholic, and my father converted when I was in second or third grade. They would openly talk about being Catholic, so it was something I (and my two sisters and brothers) was made comfortable with.

When I first came to Ohio State, there was a family I knew nearby that drove me to Mass at St. Patrick Church in Columbus. Now that I’m in my fifth year, I’ve been to a lot of nice Catholic churches in the area, and Joe Burger and I go to Mass two or three times a week. Staying an active Catholic in college would not have happened without the upbringing I had.


Do you have a patron saint?

Staying strong in the faith is one reason I chose St. John the Apostle as my confirmation saint. Unlike almost everyone else, St. John stayed by Jesus, even when things were not going well. That’s an admirable standard that any of us can use as motivation. It’s easy to be good when things are pleasant, but when there are setbacks, it takes conscious acts of the will to persevere.

My paternal grandfather is a super example of this. He has been battling cancer, but you wouldn’t know it by his conduct. He’s always very friendly. He will talk to anybody and go out of his way to help people. He was at our game against Maryland this year, which was very special, considering his condition. One of my best high-school memories was when we had a SportsLeader-sponsored jersey ceremony.

Each player’s father was supposed to talk briefly about his son and then give him a football jersey. I thought my father was going to do that, but my grandfather surprised me by arriving and doing it. That was a great moment, and I started tearing up.

My grandfather shows how illness or any suffering can be made into something good. The saints have spoken of this and done it themselves. That’s what the cross is all about — taking something bad and making the best of it.

Trent Beattie writes

from Seattle.

His latest book, Fit for Heaven (Beacon, 2015), is a collection of his sports interviews.