IU’s Haggard offering early glimpse at massive potential

The route of Indiana left tackle Luke Haggard very nearly didn’t bring him across the line of scrimmage from Ohio State, as it did last weekend.

When he was recruited from Santa Rosa Junior College in California, the Hoosiers intended to redshirt the true junior in 2020, affording him more time to put muscle on a 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame. Before he arrived at Santa Rosa, Haggard was at least 50 pounds lighter, too long and lean for any Division I program to be interested at all.

It was Santa Rosa coach Lenny Wagner who talked Haggard out of the idea of walking on at Cal, hoping to also join the rugby team.

“We explained to him, rugby is a club sport. You can play that your whole life,” Wagner said. “You have this short time to play big-time college football. When you’re done, there are plenty of rugby men’s leagues you can play in.”

The dream Wagner sold of D-I football came true, faster than anyone anticipated. The last two weeks, IU has been without starting left tackle Caleb Jones, and it’s been Haggard tossed into the fire, lined up across from defensive ends that coaches once thought he was too angular to adequately tame.

Not unlike many JUCO prospects, Haggard is accustomed with defying expectations, ending up at one place when it looked like his path was heading elsewhere. That route taught him a thing or two about how to approach opportunities like the one at IU.

“No matter what’s in your way, just keep pushing through it,” Haggard said. “I feel like I brought that mentality here. Coming here, supposed to be redshirting, and supposed to be third-string or whatever. I didn’t let that faze me. I just kept trying my hardest at practice and pushing.”

This blue-collar approach tracks back to Haggard’s days as a two-way lineman at Petaluma High. He was mostly quiet, unassuming. Only his height stuck out of a crowd, just enough for a coach from San Jose State to swing by practice, pointing out his long arms and athletic feet. Could be a good left tackle one day, he told Petaluma head coach Rick Krist.

But that college recruiter didn’t have a scholarship open. None of them ever did.

“People said he looks good, but we’re going to pass,” Krist said. “It just wasn’t the right fit.”

Haggard fit just fine at left tackle in Krist’s triple-option offense. Aside from his long arms and light feet, Haggard had these skillet-sized hands.

In those hands lied an optimism that Haggard wasn’t just tall, already 6-4 in his freshman year of high school. His skeletal structure was massive.

“I’m not a small guy, but when he shakes my hand, it’s like ‘Oh my god,’” Krist said. “We just wanted to get him beefed up and stronger, because he was really, really skinny.”

Krist just needed time to work against Haggard’s metabolism, which wouldn’t allow much beyond 200 pounds. Haggard also needed time to believe in a vision of himself as an offensive tackle.

Sophomore year, Haggard started playing rugby, and he wasn’t bad. He played the “lock” position for a state championship squad, serving as the tall body teammates thurst in the air to retrieve inbounds passes. He ran with the ball some, too.

He was so athletic, one of Haggard’s uncles, Bob Nagy, who was a former prep teammate of Krist, had a common refrain when he saw Petaluma’s coach on the street.

“Put him at tight end!” Nagy said.

Krist didn’t think much of it. A tight end isn’t much different than a tackle in Petaluma’s triple-option. Both run-block.

But when Lenny Wagner talked Haggard out of heading the D-I walk-on route, he initially stuck him at defensive end.

“We would have let him play quarterback if that’s what he wanted to play, because we wanted him so bad,” Wagner said. “But we had some holes on the o-line, at left tackle especially. So we had to have another conversation.”

At offensive tackle is where Santa Rosa’s coaches saw the brightest future for Haggard. If they could push him toward 6-7, 300 pounds, there aren’t many humans on the planet built like that. Colleges across the country crave that player.

Haggard, always cerebral and mature, understood the logic. So a week before Santa Rosa’s first game of the 2018 season, Haggard was flipped to the offensive side of the ball. The assignment of the last month at IU is nothing compared to what Haggard endured as a 220-pound tackle versus 280-pound JUCO ends.

“We were mostly throwing the ball,” Wagner said. “We just needed an athlete that could keep distance between their best rush end and the quarterback. With that long frame of his, and his athletic ability, just be a wall with legs.”

Just by getting Haggard in front of more college coaches, Wagner made him a project D-I colleges would consider taking on. Within a year, programs like Oregon State and Fresno State were showing interest. Then UConn and IU entered the mix.

San Jose State offered, but the Spartans’ offensive line coach made a fatal error when he pushed for a commitment from a once-passed-over prospect.

“He said ‘I don’t think you can play at those places. They are recruiting you as a backup,’” Wagner said. “I think that did not sit well with Luke, and I think that sealed the deal that San Jose State was out.”

That left the door wide open for IU offensive line coach Darren Hiller. A native of California, Hiller knows the state’s JUCO system well. He’s known Wagner, and they kept in touch about the tackle with skillet-sized hands.

In Bloomington, Hiller just had to convince his head coach, Tom Allen, that a 6-7, 255-pound JUCO prospect was worth investing in.

“Yeah, he was tall, it’s easy to see he’s tall,” Allen said. “But sometimes, these guys are so linear, they have a hard time gaining weight to be 300 pounds and play on the offensive line in the Big Ten.”

Hiller flew out to Santa Rosa to get a detailed workup on the left tackle. He measured Haggard’s arms, his legs. Hiller watched him bend in a stance. He put drills on video for Allen to watch.

Allen trusted Hiller’s evaluation. Haggard was scheduled for a visit. It came a couple of days after an official visit to UConn.

“It’s tricky when kids go on these trips and they get squeezed,” Wagner said. “Before nobody wanted him, and all of a sudden there was a race to get him. I told Luke, don’t commit until you’ve seen both schools.”

Haggard didn’t jump at the offer from UConn, a school that ended up not even playing football in 2020 because of the pandemic. He made his way to Bloomington, and as soon as he shook Allen’s hand, the deal was all but sealed.

Allen was gripping a massive human.

“To me, it was the size of his hands,” Allen said. “That, to me, is what I saw, even in the pictures and the video we took of him … it was all those features you look at that. Even like his jaw — he’s a big guy, even though he’s light.

“You put all those pieces together and you look at the film and you get him here and you try to decide because you’re just projecting. What’s he going to be a year, two years from now?”

Haggard signed with the Hoosiers in December and enrolled midyear. Despite a pandemic-shortened offseason, Haggard labored in IU’s weight room to gain a couple dozen pounds.

By the time IU’s season neared, paperwork for Haggard’s JUCO credits, which had been put off, because the initial thought was he was redshirting and it could wait, had to be hastily reviewed. He was ahead of schedule, and in a fall season where every player is receiving another year of eligiblity from the NCAA, it made no sense to sit him.

Soon, the tackle who was too lean for D-I ball, who contemplated playing club rugby in college, was lining up across the line of scrimmage from four- and five-star prospects along OSU’s front.

In two weeks, Haggard has flashed quick feet in pass protection. In the run game, he could still use a little more power, but that’s OK. He’s nowhere near a finished product.

“Having my number called up and getting the starting spot was definitely a big wakeup call for me, knowing I really need to focus on the film and studying and also the weight factor,” Haggard said. “They weren’t too concerned about my weight, redshirting, being slow. But now that all this has gone on, I’ve had to step it up.”

Allen says Haggard is about 15 pounds away from that coveted 300-pound mark. But just seeing him line up on Saturdays for the No. 12 team in the country, it’s been a thrill for his former coaches.

Krist saw Haggard’s uncle on the street recently, as Nagy joked, “He still could have been a tight end.”

“Yeah,” Krist answered. “But he’s a tackle.”

Wagner has a line prepped for when he enters Petaluma next, talking to another batch of overlooked recruits.

“Every time I go into Petaluma, I’m going to ask ‘Who is getting recruited right now?’ Nobody will raise their hand,” Wagner said. “Well, guess what? Luke Haggard wasn’t getting recruited, either.”

28 comments

  1. Haggard has been a blessing for IU with Jones out of the line-up. He has gotten better each week and is a decent replacement at LT with a big upside next season. If he continues to develop then IU will have another very good OT to go with Bedford, Benson and the others. I hope the guards and centers develop into an excellent OL.

  2. An overachiever pushing him is just what Jones needs to get closer to maxing his potential. Always good to have someone with “want to” making things happen.

  3. If Hiller’s so darn connected to the JUCO scene in Calif., I sure hope he’s on a plane to LAX as soon as the final whistle blows in game 9 (looking like UW right now) to save his job with a spectacular sleeper find or two.

  4. IU ticket to big ten championship game
    1. Plays and wins remaining 3 games. 2. OSU and Wisconsin games cancelled this weekend. IU would have most wins in big ten east at 7.

  5. t, I love your post and want it to happen but our OL has to improve and get better in the next three games. IU keep improving and get the three wins and keep causing take-aways you have done in the previous games. Receivers catch every pass that hits your hands and stop the drops. RBs blast through and create your own running lanes to get more yardage. DL and LBs stop the running plays like you did with Michigan and MSU the rest of the season. IUFB team don’t have any more slow starts even if Whop has to get on you before the game starts.

    IU has a chance to win the chance to win the last three games. Beat MD very bad and score as points as you can. Defense find a way to score a TD with one of the take-aways. Team, play hard all game and keep making us fans as proud of you as we do now.

  6. No games canceled for IU would be a big accomplishment in itself.
    If IU wins out I am not sure how big ten east team would be chosen to play in big ten championship game?
    The championship game carries a cancellation risk as well.

  7. Not feeling good about matchup with turtles. Offensive speed similar to OSU’s. Check out their running game versus ours, that includes Tagliaovoa. They lead conference in yards per play although sampling has been small. This is likely a one score game, either way.

  8. Indiana pretty fortunate to be up 7-3. They look flat. Penix needs to get his head in the game.

    What’s more on brand for IU than an INT and losing it fumbling the return two weeks in a row?

  9. This half for Penix is looking like Baker-Wright territory.

    I love Penix, but I never thought he was capable of playing this poorly. Maryland isn’t really doing anything that special.

  10. Who has been off and trying to work the rust off?
    Maryland is a challenging matchup for IU.
    Penix never was a heisman or has played at that level except a couple small spurts.

  11. This is one of the worst half I’ve seen from an IU quarterback in a long time. I guess the positive thing is that he hasn’t thrown any picks.

    Oh, brother. What a miserable half of football.

  12. This isn’t all on Penix. Receivers are running flat routes. No one is getting open. OL blocking has been pretty weak. The whole offense looks flat. Sheridan is looking all the bit the rookie he is.

    IU came out screaming after the half last week. Hopefully adjustments and some energy can help them overcome these horrendous uniforms.

  13. If a choice is available between IU rushing for gains or Penix completing passes. I want completions.

  14. Penix looks hurt (injury)!!! Something is wrong……whatever happen to the short/quick passes to get your quarterback going or in rhythm…..maybe a game where Indiana needs to depend on the run game.

  15. IU has to have at least a run game to compliment pass game. Penix and pass game has been scouted and so has defense; things are more challenging. Maryland has helped IU a little. The second OSU half was a little bit of FOOLS GOLD based on overall season of play. This is the kind of game that IU time and time again in past has become a loser for them. Can IU physically raise their level of play?

  16. Defense in Bloomington! Feels wonderful. Schemes are solid and don’t give up the big plays. D is our backbone this year.

  17. 5 min after hitting send on that last comment, we give up a 43yd bomb in garbage time.

    Hehe.

    Anyway, good news. I’ve never seen a Hoosier team who could play flat and still manage to get the W. This Maryland team is talented.

    5-1.

    Dang.

    1. If MD QB can become as accurate as his brother the Big might be in trouble. He missed a few open guys and bailed out IU defense. MD should have had two half TDs. They have some fast guys too.

  18. Let’s be honest; a big factor in today’s game was that Maryland hadn’t played in three weeks and only resumed practice last Monday. While both teams had players out with COVID, Maryland had a lot more, and it showed in the second half. They looked out of sorts with a lot of penalties and got worn down in the second half. But IU won the game against a talented opponent when they didn’t have their best performance. I consider that a sign of progress for this program.

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