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High risk, bigger reward

Mark Hazelwood • Nov 20, 2018 at 7:48 PM

NORWALK — Everyone reaches the same mindset at some point.

Throughout any day of the week, there is a mental voice inside, wrestling with a decision of some kind.

And ultimately, Norwalk senior Brandon Haraway could no longer ignore that voice.

“Even though I loved basketball more, football was something I still loved and I just didn’t want to give it up completely,” Haraway said. “I came back to have some fun with my friends.”

There was plenty of risk facing Haraway this summer. In 2016, he had a solid football season in progress, only to see a serious elbow injury cost him both football and nearly all of basketball.

“I was still worried about getting hurt,” Haraway said. “I just decided to take the risk. I loved it too much still.”

He signed his letter-of-intent to play college basketball at NCAA Division II Ashland University last Friday. Hours later, he helped the Truckers (10-3) reach the Div. III state semifinals by making eight catches in a win over Sandusky.

Playing athletics in a family that has seen no shortage of team and individual success, Haraway carved his team success in a sport he nearly gave up for good. But how he got here was far from easy.

The injury

As a sophomore, Haraway had been pressed into early action to the quarterback position because of an injury to another player.

Norwalk was on its way to a 30-19 win at Willard to move to 6-3, and Haraway had ripped off a 55-yard run.

“It was originally a pass play, and I dropped back and saw a big hole and ran through it,” Haraway said. “I broke a few tackles, but then saw one kid coming and I was thinking all I had to do was give him a stiff arm and I was in the end zone.”

But it was a muddy, grass field, and the defender caught up to Haraway quicker than he thought.

“He got under my legs, and my arm was already out there and he landed straight on it,” he said. “At first I thought it was dislocated because I heard it pop. But as it lingered, I knew something was up after that.”

The end result was a serious triceps tendon injury, as it had torn off his elbow.

Not only was football done, but likely all of the following basketball season following surgery.

Haraway finished with 1,194 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games and had three interceptions on defense. In basketball, he returned for the final five regular season games and tournament.

“After sitting out most of basketball, I just realized how much it meant to me,” Haraway said. “Being forced to watch everyone else play. It hurt me to be honest. I told myself I was going to grind when I got back. I knew what I had to do to make it happen.”

And with that, Haraway believed his days of football were done.

“With the recovery, and all the football stuff that goes on in the summer, I chose to just focus on basketball,” he said. “With AAU and the traveling there, it was going to be too much.

“That’s what I knew I had to do if I wanted to be great,” he added. “So I just chose to focus on basketball.”

Coming back

Even though Haraway believed football was in the rearview mirror, those close to him knew otherwise.

“I predicted last spring he would go back out for football,” Norwalk boys basketball coach Steve Gray said of his top player. “Brandon is very close with his teammates, and he’s the type of kid that just wants to compete. I wasn’t surprised at all.”

But still, Haraway wasn’t sure. One thing that was clear, however. He had full support from his family, friends and coaches in basketball.

Finally, on July 23 — just seven days before fall practice started, Haraway told first-year Norwalk coach Todd Fox he wanted to play football again.

“I’ve been telling him since the day he didn’t come back out that he had to come back,” Norwalk senior running back Trevon Raymore said. “When Coach Fox told me it was happening … I knew he was going to bring a new aspect to our team.”

Haraway said he wasn’t concerned with how he would be received, despite missing all of the spring and summer workouts. Several players, including Raymore, said he was welcomed back with open arms.

“I was still worried about getting hurt, but I just decided to take the risk,” Haraway said. “But all of the coaching staff and players were encouraging me to come back throughout the summer and just always sticking in my ear about it. It feel like it was a warm welcome.”

Gray said it was worth noting just how big the risk was for Haraway and his scholarship to Ashland.

“What most people don't know is if he re-injured that elbow, his athletic career was over,” Gray said. “And for him to come back and compete at such a high level and play as hard as he does with no fear … it just says everything you need to know about him."

The impact

In his return to wide receiver and defensive back this fall, Haraway has had a big year.

With basketball teammate Garrett Chapin throwing to him, he caught 30 passes for 506 yards and 3 TDs in the regular season. As a first-team Northwest District selection, he’s eligible for All-Ohio honors.

In the playoffs, Haraway has been even bigger. In a 42-14 win over Bowling Green in the first round, he caught seven passes for 99 yards, including a 48-yard TD pass that broke the game open.

He didn’t catch a single pass in a 56-7 win over Rocky River in the second round — but still got his hands on the football with an interception and fumble recovery on defense.

In last week’s 20-17 win over Sandusky, Haraway caught eight passes for 70 yards — including five on the opening drive alone. He has 45 catches for 675 yards and 4 TDs.

But what has left everyone talking from that game wasn’t Haraway’s receiving skills.

On a 7-yard TD run by Raymore late in the first quarter, Haraway took on a Sandusky defender at the 4-yard line. He proceeded to move him like a lineman sled and finished off by pinning him to the ground for a pancake block — about seven yards later into the end zone as Raymore scored.

“I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and I’m just thinking while I’m running, ‘Geez, Brandon,’” Raymore said. “He’s been doing that all year to be honest, but he definitely had a little something on that one.”

Fox said it was one of his favorite moments from the hard-hitting game.

“We played it back a few times on film,” he said. “A lot of our run game is based on our receivers blocking, and Brandon is good at it. That was a great one to see. He definitely instilled his will on that defender.”

Haraway credits the blocking to assistant coach Chris Harkness, also a former standout receiver for the Truckers.

“I think that’s his mindset getting into us,” he said. “He wants people to notice us, and sometimes it’s not going to be with a catch, but with a block. It’s just about helping out the team in general.

“It’s always great doing that, because it gives you a rush, a feeling of ‘I’m on top right now.’ You’re the man in that moment,” Haraway added.

Family pressure

Brandon Haraway is the youngest of what has been an impressive recent run of accomplishments between siblings and cousins.

His oldest brother, Ben, is one of the top basketball players in school history. He was the Outstanding Performer of the Div. II state tournament when he helped lead the Truckers to the 2014 state championship.

Ben is a 1,000-plus point scorer at AU, where Brandon will follow. Cousin Jeff Thomas was also one of the top basketball players in school history. He starred on the state title team as well, and is currently wrapping up a solid career at Div. I Georgia State.

Jiselle Thomas scored more than 2,000 points and took the Norwalk girls to its only district title. She’s at Div. I Florida International.

And the list goes on.

“I don’t even think it would be considered family pressure,” Ben Haraway said of his youngest brother. “He’s out there having as much fun as he can. If you’re really good at something, it doesn’t feel like pressure.”

Ben said there was an initial concern over his brother returning to football — but that quickly got put aside.

“It’s a contact sport and injuries happen,” Ben said. “But those year-ending injuries don’t happen as often as people think. Brandon has a great attitude. He’s a tough and gritty kind of person in general.

“He brings that onto the basketball court, but it also translates well to the football field,” he added.

Meanwhile, Brandon said there is no option but to embrace the pressure.

“It’s a lot, but I turn it into straight excitement for me,” he said. “It gives me another goal and records to work towards. It’s just keeping a legacy going pretty much.”

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