After playing guard on the offensive line during his high school career, Jovan Haye attended Vanderbilt University for football and switched over to defensive line. At Vandy, he played in 35 games before entering the 2005 National Football League Draft at the conclusion of his junior year.
Selected by the Carolina Panthers in the sixth round, Jovan spent seven seasons playing defensive line at the professional level, and latched on as a full-time starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2007-08) and Tennessee Titans (2009). Haye spent his seven seasons split among the Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Bucs, Titans and Detroit Lions before finally retiring from the game after his 2011 campaign.
Haye has been up to a lot since hanging up his cleats, and was nice enough to take time out of his schedule on Sunday night to speak with us regarding his own experience with preparing for the NFL Draft, his pro career and a just a few of his recent business ventures:
All-Out Blitz: In high school you played on the offensive line (guard), but switched over to the defensive line while playing at Vanderbilt University. What was the toughest part about switching from offense to defense?
Jovan Haye: “The toughest part was just having to learn how to play a whole new position. I never played defense before, so the learning curve to adjust to that new position was definitely the toughest part.”
AOB: Did it take a while to adjust to the offensive line? And did you have any teammates that helped you with the position move?
Haye: “Yeah, it took a while. It took almost a whole year.”
AOB: Did you have any teammates that helped you with the position move?
Haye: “I mean, they tried, but there’s only so much you can do, until you’re out there doing it yourself. I had guys try to show me, but you really have to do it for yourself. There’s only so much you can learn from another person, especially when you have to go out there and actually do it. So I took as much as I could from the reps and seeing guys do it, but I still had to go ahead and apply myself.”
AOB: With players preparing for the NFL Draft this spring, what is one piece of advice you’d give to all the players out there trying to prove themselves to NFL scouts?
Haye: “Just go out there and give it everything you’ve got. Work on your craft, find your tools. You don’t need every tool in the toolbox, but you need a good amount. I’d say for them to just go out there and show them what you can do. This is just the beginning. If you plan on playing multiple years in the NFL, then this is just a stepping stone.
The easiest part, which may sound weird, is getting to the NFL. Even though that’s one of the hardest things to do (make it to the NFL), it’s staying in the NFL that is the hard part. You can get there, but can you stay there?”
AOB: You had a pretty long career in comparison with the average length of an NFL career. What would you say helped you the most in staying in the league for as long as you did (2005-11)?
Haye: “Just applying myself and giving it everything I had. I just went as hard as I could until teams said ‘hey, you no longer can help us in what we’re trying to accomplish.’ So I just gave everything I had: studied, knew my assignment. I was never the most talented––there were a lot of guys more talented than I was––but I knew the playbook. That’s where a lot of guys ended up failing. They just can’t learn the playbook and they don’t know what they’re supposed to do. So that’s what I was able to do to survive and stay around for seven years.”
AOB: You were selected in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. What was it like when you finally heard your name called?
Haye: “It was crazy. I actually didn’t hear my name called––it just scrolled around the bottom––but I got a phone call from Carolina. It was amazing. It was one of those memories where it was bittersweet, because I was expected to go much higher, especially after my Combine performance. It went from being angry that I didn’t go higher to being nervous that I wasn’t going to be drafted. But when my name finally got called (189th pick by the Carolina Panthers), it was one of the best moments ever. I will take that to my grave.”
AOB: You mentioned that you were supposed to go higher. What do you think players should do when they expect to be picked high in the draft but end up falling a few rounds, like you did?
Haye: “That was tough. To this day I don’t know why I fell. You see where guys may not have that great of a season in their last year and they go to the Combine and just blow up. I see a lot of guys go top five because they have a great Combine, and here I am saying ‘there’s no way I fall out of the second round.’ But it happened. I tell guys, don’t sit in front of that TV. Just go and enjoy your day and if you get that phone call then you get that phone call. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because at the end of the day it goes back to what I said: getting drafted is the easy part, it’s staying around that’s hard.
You’re going to learn that the NFL is a very weird game. I had guys who were my backup, while I was playing football, that are still playing. They were my backup, and they’re still playing. I’m at home retired and I have guys who are playing special, who never played any offense or defense, that are approaching their 11th year in the league. I’m like ‘wow, and I’m at home.’ So there’s just no exact science as to how a guy who only plays special teams stays in the league so much longer than a guy who started so many games throughout his seven-year career. So you can’t just start thinking. The NFL is a very weird game, and it’s tough to explain how things are the way they are sometimes.”
AOB: You mentioned that it’s a much different game, so what would you say is the biggest difference––in terms of play on the field––between the college level and the professional level?
Haye: “I played in the SEC, so speed is everywhere. Of course the NFL guys are much bigger, stronger, faster. You always hear that. It’s that every day talk, it’s the verb-age you expect people to use. But the big difference for me is that it is a business, and you learn that in a heartbeat. It’s not how fast or quick guys are, how much they can bench, how many years they’ve played. That has nothing to do with it. It is, you learn quickly, a business. You could have a Pro Bowl year your rookie year and then by year four you’re out of the league.”
AOB: Since your playing days, you’ve been up to a lot of different things and projects. You have a book out entitled Bigger Than Me. Can you tell us what it’s about and why you decided to publish it?
Haye: “It’s my autobiography. I use it to encourage people to realize that it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish. I look at my life right now, and I always have people tell me ‘hey, you’ve made it.’ And to this day I don’t know what that means, because I don’t feel like I’ve made anything. I’m living my dream to this day, even though I’m retired. It’s titled Bigger Than Me because there’s something in my life that’s driving me. I know it’s God, I don’t know where he wants to take me. But there’s something bigger than me that’s allowing me to do the things I am doing. I don’t have any regrets in my life because my path has been paved, I’m just trying to figure out where this journey is going to take me. God knows, but I don’t know. So that’s the only reason I wrote this book, to encourage people that there’s more to life than what you see on the surface.”
AOB: In addition to the book, what are some other post-playing career projects/jobs you’ve been working on recently?
Haye: “Some of everything. I’ve started a few start-up companies––tech companies, I’ve got an invention company. My water company (IOC) just got rolling, it’s going to be something very massive. I look forward to that project and would one day like to get to a point where you could mention my water company in the same breath as Coke, Sprite and Gatorade. So we’re working hard over here. I can take this to my grave, again, I got robbed of my Pro Bowl back in 2007 (back when I played in Tampa). I feel I should have been there. I never made a Pro Bowl on the field, but I’m trying to become a Pro Bowler off the field––especially in the business world.
So that’s what I’ve been up to now, just trying to do bigger and better things and use the NFL as a stepping stone. That’s one thing I encourage young guys to do now. We (NFL players) don’t get a lot of that from the NFL. They always want you to focus on football. It’s football, football, football 24/7, and you never truly hear ‘start preparing for life after football.’ So I encourage guys to start preparing from their rookie year. It sounds weird, but you need to start thinking about it from day one.”
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For more information about Jovan’s pro football career and his post-retirement business endeavors, you may visit his official website, or follow him on Twitter at @jovan_haye.
Featured Photo: jovanhaye.com
Other photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images