Herb Haygood knows he wouldnt be an MSU football player if it werent for Doug Bendel.
He changed me from not caring about going to college, Haygood said, of his mentor back home in Sarasota, Fla. Back then I only wanted to play football.
Haygood met Bendel when he was a sophomore at Sarasota High School. Bendel was retired and worked as a volunteer tutor and mentor at the school. Haygood admits he acted immaturely and often skipped classes during his first two years of high school.
Herb is a uniquely coachable person, said Bendel, 59, who now owns MedLite Inc., a medical transcriptions company in Sarasota. His grades were at a D level when I met him, and he had a long way to go. Im very proud of him now, just like I would be with one of my own kids.
Haygood is now one of MSUs starting wide receivers, leading the team in receptions with 19. Hes also changed his life around in the classroom.
Haygood says he was one of the only students who listened to Bendels words of wisdom. The rest of his friends continued along the wrong path, but he was determined to start doing well.
Haygoods two older brothers dropped out of high school, but he says he was bent on making his mother proud.
Now, the player with two career touchdowns, including a 68-yard game-winner against Notre Dame this year, hardly talks to his hometown friends in Sarasota anymore.
I look at all my old friends from home and I cant even mess with them anymore, Haygood said. Ive moved on from that.
So what exactly are Haygoods old buddies doing these days?
No comment, said the former high school star running back.
Haygood vividly recalls a story that helped shape his turnaround in high school. Its something Bendel will never forget, either.
One game during Haygoods junior year, he set a Sarasota high school record with 363 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
The following day, the big man on campus realized he needed some money for the next weeks homecoming and that he had no cash of his own. So he showed up at Bendels door, pleading for help.
Herb came to me and asked for some money, Bendel said. I told him to mow the lawn, but then I realized something had to be done before the grass could be mowed.
Before he knew it, Haygood was in Bendels yard, scooping up the family dogs feces with a pooper scooper for his requested money.
That helped him learn that life isnt just about scoring touchdowns, and its something he still hasnt forgotten, Bendel said.
Bendel said his relationship with Haygood used to be that of a mentor, but now the two are simply friends.
Herb calls me about two times a week, he said. College changes men and women to take responsibility of ones own life, and Herb is no different.
Haygood is one of three members of the Spartan team from Sarasota. Cedric Henry, Marcus Waters and Haygood call themselves the Sota Boys.
Henry, a junior, leads MSU with three interceptions as one of MSUs starting cornerbacks. Waters has seen increasing playing time in his first year after being ineligible last season.
So what brings these high school football studs to a northern city 1,300 miles from home?
It started back with Luke Bencie (who played in 1994-95), and then Amp (former cornerback Campbell), Haygood said. Our goal is to get one person from there each year. I just found out that a lot of people back home go to the bars to watch us play. Its a big thing now.
Haygood and Henry have competed since their days of Pop Warner football and Little League baseball in Sarasota. They have differing opinions on who was the better athlete. Both were outstanding running backs in high school; Haygood at Sarasota High School and Henry at Booker High School.
Herb was the best, Henry said, emphatically.
My junior year Ced (Henry) ran for 2,000 yards, so I tried to get back at him, Haygood said. I think I did.
Waters said he loves being far from home with people he grew up nearby.
Its great, the converted linebacker said. It is real cool to be here with all these guys from home.
Bendel is humble when talking about his contribution to Haygoods success.
I have a feeling of absolute pride, Bendel said. I understand in a small way that we got there as a team. Herb thinks I played a bigger role than I did. I didnt do the hours and hours of running and training, that was all him.