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POTOMAC, Md. — Standing at the center of the prep football field that Dwayne Haskins Jr. once graced, his sister Tamia, with tears assembling in her eyes, told of a caring brother and “lifelong best friend” who doubled as Bullis High School’s rowdiest theatergoer.
To millions, Haskins was a superstar quarterback. To Tamia, he was a secret sharer, a jokester who wouldn’t hide his love for her, even around his friends. And on Oct. 27, 2018, he was a surprise.
Haskins, midway through the greatest football season of his life, flew home from Ohio State to Maryland for a Friday night show. Tamia, preparing to act in the high school play, saw him stroll into an auditorium lobby, beaming, and she burst with joy. Haskins watched her perform, then stayed for hours afterward, handing flowers to Tamia, signing autographs for others in attendance, and even helping put away chairs.
He took a genuine interest in his little sister’s budding theater career. “Whenever Dwayne could make it, he would always be in the front row, screaming, 'That's my sister!' ” Tamia said here Sunday.
“I have a show coming up in May,” she continued — but that’s when her voice began to shiver, her mind arriving at an unthinkable thought. “And I wish that he could see it.”
Dwayne Haskins, 24, died April 9 when he was struck by a truck on a Florida interstate. Two unbearable weeks later, his family, friends, teammates, coaches, mentors and others gathered for three memorial services, the first in Pittsburgh on Friday, the second near his hometown in New Jersey on Saturday, and the third here at his Maryland high school Sunday night.
Haskins’ parents did not attend the Friday ceremony, but spoke at Saturday’s celebration of life, and comforted Tamia, their daughter, as she eulogized her brother Sunday. Haskins’ widow, Kalabrya, sat in the front row of the bleachers, and occasionally lifted her sunglasses to wipe away tears.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day also spoke. Several members of the Washington Commanders, Haskins’ first NFL franchise — including team owner Daniel Snyder, president Jason Wright, executive Doug Williams, and players Chase Young, Jonathan Allen and Kendall Fuller — were also in attendance.
The celebration of Haskins’ life emphasized that he was much more than a quarterback. His “irresistible smile,” which lit up the video board at Kline Alumni Stadium, had impacted so many people. Darren Haynes, the ceremony’s emcee, opened proceedings by asking anybody in the audience to raise their hand if Haskins had touched their life, and hundreds of arms shot into the air.
A dozen of them told stories about a selfless introvert who brightened days. About a big-time recruit who stuck around long after Bullis games to entertain lower-schoolers, and who, on one occasion, talked up a bench player enough to make the kids enamored with the bench player, too.
They told stories about an honors student. “He coulda been a lawyer. He coulda been a doctor,” his former adviser at Bullis said. “He coulda been an engineer. He coulda been a professor. He coulda been a teacher. And he woulda been a great coach. Because Dwayne was brilliant.”
Day, who was Haskins’ coordinator and QB coach at Ohio State, said his son “looks up to Dwayne just like a big brother.” The two would toss a football for up to 45 minutes after Buckeye practices, even before Haskins had claimed the starting role.
“And it wasn’t just about my son,” Day said. “He did that with so many other youngsters and people in the community. His compassion, the way he loved — I mean, he loved big. And that still lives on at Ohio State.
“In such a short time,” Day continued, “the impact he made on this earth — I just wish I had more time with him, and I know we all do here.”
The sun set as Day spoke. A hot afternoon gave way to a cool, breezy night. Floodlights illuminated this pristine sliver of private-school campus some 10 miles northwest of Washington D.C.
Then, a little after 8:30 p.m., those lights dimmed. A video-board slideshow commemorated Haskins’ life, which had been tragically short but nonetheless immensely fulfilling. As Beyonce’s “Heaven” rolled out of speakers, photos from Haskins’ childhood brought family members and friends to tears. There were prom photos, and graduation photos, and that “mega-smile” radiating down on everybody, even through a football helmet.
A few friends bowed their heads, stricken by emotion. Many exchanged extended hugs, bound by a mutual understanding of how difficult the past two weeks had been.
“Everybody's asking me, ‘Are you OK?’ ” Haskins’ mother, Tamara, had said at Saturday’s service. “And I'm just coming to the fact, it's OK to not be OK. Because I'm not OK.”
Mother, father and daughter strode slowly to the lectern at midfield when it was their turn to speak.
“I turned 21 on April 4. My brother died five days later on April 9,” Tamia said off the top, and she cried. “I didn't even have a full week of adulthood before I lost him.”
But she somehow spoke eloquently, remembering childhood fondly, and remembering their shared dreams. Her brother had accomplished so many of his in such a short window. “Unfortunately,” she said, “Dwayne won't physically be here to see what I accomplish.”
Still, she could “imagine him in heaven smiling down at me, which is the best spot in the house.” Through sniffles, she joked that he “can’t complain about the leg room [in the theater] anymore.”
“Dwayne,” she said, “you will have a front-row view of me building my own legacy, honoring you through everything that I create and perform.
“I can hear you screaming, ‘That’s my sister’ from heaven. And now you can be as loud as you want.
“Until I see you again, save me a seat. Because I have so much to share with you. I love you so much, bud.”