NASHVILLE, Tenn. - On Saturday, Titans defensive tackle Jovan Haye will play in his first game in Nashville since his college days at Vanderbilt in 2004. Adding to the excitement, Haye will line up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team he played for the last three seasons.
As Vanderbilt's defensive team captain in 2003, Haye was a conference co-leader with 8.5 sacks and was named second-team All-SEC as a sophomore. Although Haye was very successful at Vanderbilt, life at school had not always been so enjoyable.
Haye's family moved from Jamaica to the United States when he was six years old. Besides living in a new country, Haye suffered from dyslexia, which made the transition even tougher.
"I struggled through my adolescent years," said Haye. "I didn't start putting together sentences until I was 8 or 9. Everything I read was backwards. I couldn't get a sentence out so it was really tough coming to America. I was always the kid that everybody made fun of because nobody knew what I was going through except for my teachers."
Persevering through the condition, Haye graduated from high school with a 4.5 GPA and earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt.
"It was by the grace of God that helped me overcome it because the professionals couldn't help and all of a sudden, one day, it started clicking," said Haye. "I give credit to Mrs. Patton, my middle school teacher in Ft. Lauderdale."
Credit is also due to Jovan's brother, Mike Haye, for convincing their father to let Jovan play football when he was a junior in high school. Since coming to America, Jovan always had the desire to play football, but his parents wouldn't allow him. Amazingly, he earned first-team All-State honors at offensive guard as a junior and senior at Dillard High School in Sunrise, Fla.
"He was a late bloomer, I guess," noted Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse. "I can't see how anyone can be in the league now and not play football until later on in high school, but I guess it goes to show that you either got it or you don't. Starting to play as a junior, he might have missed out on a couple of years of experience but he probably missed a couple of injuries, which is a good thing."
Major injuries were avoided by Haye until his ailing 2008 campaign in Tampa Bay. The Titans are looking for him to have another breakout season as he did in 2007 when made a career-high 97 tackles, the most by a Buccaneers defensive lineman since 1984. Haye also had six sacks and tied for the NFL lead with four fumble recoveries.
Haye is currently adjusting to Tennessee's defensive scheme, which is different from Tampa Bay's. Some defenses like Tampa Bay try to read what the offensive line is doing and then make adjustments to their own moves depending on what they see. In Tennessee, defensive line coach Jim Washburn has a different strategy.
"Our way of thinking is," said Washburn, "I'm going to do this. What are you going to do? How are you going to block? You can be more decisive this way."
Kearse, a three-time Pro Bowler, likes Washburn's defensive scheme.
"This type of scheme lets you use your talents more," said Kearse. "When I was in Philly and he (Haye) was in Tampa, it was a different type of defense. Here it lets you get more up on the football and make some plays."
With former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signing with the Redskins in the offseason, Haye and rookie defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks have big shoes to fill. Marks, the Titans' second-round draft pick in 2009, is anxious to learn whatever he can from Haye.
"I can learn a lot from him," said Marks. "He works hard. He's got something that I don't have which is tons and tons of strength. I've seen him take on some blocks like he isn't even trying. I try to work out with him. I try to do the things he does and just learn from guys like him who have a positive attitude."
Haye is excited about playing for the Titans, who ranked second in scoring defense during the 2008 regular season. The Titans allowed an average of 14.6 points per game, second to only the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Haye is also enjoying living in Nashville again. The Music City is where he plans to live when it's all said and done.
"He is just a solid person in every way," said Washburn. "He's smart, likes to work and has a really good character which makes him a great fit. He is really good for us."