October 28, 2009

Commitment To Future

By Charles Moore '10

When A.J. Haase makes a commitment, he sticks to it. That is why when it came time to choose a college, there actually was no choice. He had committed to Iowa State as a junior in high school and that was where he was going, despite talking with Yale, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Illinois. It was what he had always wanted. Every kid who grows up an athlete dreams of running out onto a field or court in front of 100,000 people. Haase turned that dream into a reality. But after a year of turmoil, a lost bowl game to TCU, and rumors of the staff being fired, Haase knew he had to get out.

“There was just a lot of turmoil in the program at that time,” says Haase. “There were rumors of the coaching staff getting fired, which eventually turned out to be true. There were a lot of guys who transferred after that year. The academics also started to catch up with me. I saw seniors who had 3.9 GPAs that were not finding jobs. It became apparent to me that football wasn’t everything. The hardest part was not honoring the commitment to my scholarship.”

Coming out of high school Haase had been very interested in Yale, and that is where he looked to when thoughts of transferring crept up.

“I was originally attracted to Yale because of the allure and of course the storied football tradition,” says Haase. “Transferring to Yale ended up being the best decision I have ever made.”

After red shirting his freshman year at Iowa State, Haase still had four years of eligibility remaining. He arrived in New Haven the summer before his first year at Yale to begin training with the team. What became readily apparent was that the differences between the football bowl subdivision and football championship subdivision were not as big as the perception.

“Sure you miss the crowds, but you love the game just the same so it doesn’t matter,” says Haase. “I love the small community of Yale. I would be kicking myself if I had passed up on a Yale education.”

That love of the game has followed Haase all throughout his childhood. Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Haase grew up in a big neighborhood with lots of kids and room to run around and play sports. In seventh grade, Haase’s family moved to Bonne Terre, Miss., where high school football was everything.

“The dream was always to play college football,” says Haase. “We moved to Missouri because of my dad’s job. Bonne Terre was a great football town. The whole town would come out for the games.”

After playing linebacker the first three years of high school, Haase was called upon to take snaps under center when North County High School’s quarterback hurt his shoulder in the second game of the season. It worked, because Haase led his team to an 11-1 record with 2,664 all-purpose yards and 28 touchdowns.

“I had some great receivers on my team,” says Haase. “My throwing mechanics were terrible, but I ran the option pretty well.”

Haase knew all along he would be switching back to linebacker and that is exactly what happened when he began at Iowa State. Since coming to Yale he has been moved to tight end, where he has played significantly since the beginning of last season.

“As a tight end, he has very good speed and gives us some favorable match-ups in our vertical passing game when covered by linebackers and safeties,” says tight end coach Mike Sanford. “He has improved tremendously as a blocker this year and takes pride in that part of his game.”

That improvement has no doubt come from all the summers Haase has spent in New Haven training for football, a commitment that his teammates have noticed.

“A.J. has always been really athletic, especially for someone his size, but his work ethic is probably what is most impressive,” says senior teammate John Sheffield. “He has spent a lot of time working on the details and becoming a more complete tight end. He has spent each of the past four summers in New Haven to work out with the team. He routinely stays after to watch extra film on himself and opponents.”

“He has been extremely dedicated to Yale football over his four years here – both on and off the field,” says senior teammate Paul Rice. “A.J. is constantly pushing himself in the weight room and on the practice field. He used to be a bit of a hot head, which was a great source of entertainment for the defensive guys. I remember in spring practice freshmen year, A.J. caught a ball over the middle and was tackled by Bobby Abare. Immediately after the tackle, A.J. got up and threw the ball at Bobby’s face. As you can imagine, it turned into a huge fight. He’s always been good at mixing it up in practice. Lately though, he has channeled that energy much more effectively and it’s become very apparent in his play.”

All the work finally paid off three weeks ago at Georgetown when Haase caught his first touchdown pass.

“I was unaware that A.J.’s touchdown reception at Georgetown was his allegedly elusive inaugural one,” says Sanford. “When A.J. and John Sheffield ran off the field, all I heard was Sheff chanting ‘A.J.’s First Touchdown Party’, as this was something they had been hyping for over two years in anticipation of the career milestone. I couldn’t help but crack a smile when I figured it out.”

“It was nice to finally get the monkey off my back,” says Haase.

Now, Haase can focus on trying to finish out his final semester at Yale with the best season of his career. Haase already went through the pageantry of graduation last spring with his classmates, and will leave Yale in December. He took last spring off in order to have one more semester of eligibility for football. During that time, he worked for Chris Getman ’64 at Soundview Capital Management Corporation in New Haven. Getman is a well-known Yale alum who, among other things, played baseball at Yale and is president of Mory’s board of governors. Getman also has the honor being caretaker to Handsome Dan, a duty which Haase often took on during his time at Soundview Capital.

“Mr. Getman would bring Handsome Dan to work every day,” says Haase. “I would often get to take him out on walks.”

While Haase does not see a professional career in walking Handsome Dan or finance in his future, he does intend to go to law school next year. For now, Haase is currently in the midst of writing his senior essay on today’s government and how it does or does not relate to the constitution which our founding fathers laid out. He eventually wants to get into politics and put his major to use.

Until then Haase’s sights are set on an Ivy League Championship in his final season. A career that started at Iowa State will conclude in front of a full house at the Yale Bowl -- including Haase’s parents, who have attended every one of his games -- at the Yale-Harvard game this November, one more reminder of what brought Haase to the Bulldogs three years ago.

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