A True Turnaround Story: Albert Haynesworth

A BCorrespondent INovember 4, 2008

Albert Haynesworth is by many, considered to be a frontrunner for the MVP award this season.

Why not? He is the cornerstone of a defense that ranks 10th against the run, 12th against the pass, and most importantly, gives up the fewest points per game, on average of 12.9 per game.

Big Al Haynesworth is by many considered the leader of this dominant defense.

Keith Bullock might have something to say against that statement, but Al "Painesworth" as many call him, is doing it all.

You name it, Al does it: Stop the run, get after the QB and most importantly, make his teammates better.

However, Al's rise to the top was no walk in the park.

He went to Hartsville High School in Hartsville, South Carolina, and was recruited to the University of Tennessee.

In his high school career, it has been reported he struggled with a cocaine addiction, to an unknown degree.

After joining the Tennessee Volunteers, his problems did not end.

Despite being guided by Phillip Fulmer, Haynesworth lacked the maturity of an NFL player. Many say he lacked the maturity a college player needs to succeed.

Occurances in his early tenure as a Volunteer, caused him to nearly stop playing football.

While a sophomore at Tennessee, he fought with a teammate and left practice, returning with a long pole looking for tackle Will Ofenheusle before coach Phillip Fulmer stopped him. He was suspended for a half of a game.

It was right around this epoch that Albert almost gave up on football. He ended up walking out of more practices, and reportedly thought heavily about quiting.

After deciding to stick it out, Al did just that. After his sophomore year, the tables appeared to have turned.

For the remainder of his college career, he avoided all legal trouble. He had no problems on the field either.

He teamed up with teammate John Henderson at Tennessee, at the DT position, and they dominated. They were touted as the two top DT's of the entire draft class coming out.

He also experienced the birth of his son. Becoming a father is likely to have lead a big role in his turnaround.

To add to that, Al was seleceted 15th in the 2002 NFL draft by the Titans. Everything looked good to the people of the world.

From 2002-2005, Al produced solid numbers. In 2005, he started 14 out of the 16 games, making his biggest impact on the NFL. He was supposed to have a breakout '06 season.

But his problems arose yet again.

An incident occurred at a Titans training camp, where Haynesworth kicked his teammate, center Justin Hartwig, in the chest, and had to be restrained by other teammates.

Little did we know, his most grusome act was yet to come.

On October 1, 2006 in the third quarter of a game against the Cowboys, running back Julius Jones scored on a running play. Center Andre Gurode fell to the ground, and his helmet was removed by Haynesworth.

According to DallasCowboys.com columnist Mickey Spagnola, Haynesworth reached down and pulled off his helmet. In video evidence of the play, Haynesworth does indeed bend down towards Gurode prior to his helmet being off and prior to the stomps.

Because the view is partially blocked by other players, it cannot be seen whether he manually removes the helmet. However, most media outlets reported simply that Gurode's helmet was off.

Haynesworth tried to stomp on Gurode's head, but missed. A second stomp opened a severe wound on Gurode's forehead, narrowly missing his right eye.

Haynesworth was hit with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. In the midst of his protest, he took off his helmet and threw it to the ground, which led to another 15-yard penalty and Haynesworth's ejection from the game.

Gurode later received 30 stitches just above and below his right eye

On October 2, 2006, Haynesworth was suspended for 5 games without pay by the NFL. The suspension is the longest in NFL history for an on-the-field incident, more than twice as long as the previous record of 2 games. He forfeited around $190,000 in salary.

To contribute to that, arrest warrants were issued against Haynesworth in two Tennessee counties in May of 2006, stemming from a traffic incident.

Both sets of charges were dropped in June 2006. The judge in the Putnam County case tossed the charges on the grounds that the alleged offense happened out of their jurisdiction. In Smith County, the district attorney dismissed the charges.

After seeing him step on Gurode's face, many were shocked. Some though Gurode should have sued. Luckily, Gurode did not.

Nobody knows what you did during that offseason Al, but you did something right.

In 2007, Albert Haynesworth came out looking like a new man. Earning a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.

Haynesworth said of his Pro Bowl selection, "It’s an awesome feeling. It’s kind of a load off my back because I didn’t want last year’s suspension to define my career.

It was a difficult time in my life, but I was determined to keep working hard to get to this point and earn the respect of my teammates, coaches and fans."

It is clear Al has turned his life around.

Where has it gotten him?

Well it has gotten HIM to be involved in all MVP talks.

Where has it gotten his team?

Off to an 8-0 start, as the consensus number one in the league.