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July 18, 2012
While growing up in a family that included one first-round draft pick and two other college football players, Jonathan Haden quickly learned a secret of surviving as the youngest brother.
Quit while you're ahead. "If I ever beat them at anything, I stopped playing because I knew the next time I'd probably lose," the 2014 running back from Washington (D.C.) Friendship said. "I'd play one game and win, and I'd be done. They'd say, 'Come on, play again.' I'd go, 'I'm done. I already beat you. I've got nothing else to prove.'"
That plan may have helped him out at home, but he knows it won't succeed in the world of college football recruiting.
Haden is all business every time he takes the field. He knows he never can stop working as he attempts to make a name for himself. That's the lesson he learned from his brothers.
Joe Haden, a former All-America cornerback and Jim Thorpe Award finalist at Florida, now plays for the Cleveland Browns. Josh Haden, a former Rivals250 running back, spent his college career at Boston College and Florida. Jordan Haden, a Rivals250 safety, currently plays for Toledo after originally signing with Florida.
Now Jonathan wants to prove he's every bit as good as his brothers. It certainly won't be the first time he's tried competing with his older siblings.
"From the beginning, they were so close in age, the competitiveness was unbelievable," said their father, Joseph Haden. "There was more competiveness at home sometimes then on the field. They were so competitive I'd get calls at work. 'Dad, who's the fastest? Who's the strongest?' it just trickled down to my son Jonathan."
These competitions weren't restricted to football. Whether is be basketball, pool, checkers, cards or any other game, the Hadens would compete with intensity. They would even use family trips as a way to race in order to see who would get to sit in the front seat.
That mentality sticks with them to this day.
"(Jonathan's) the youngest one," Joseph Haden said. "But even when Joe comes home -- and he's with the Browns -- when he plays ball with him, I mean, he plays hard. He plays to win."
He has already shown that early on in his high school career.
Haden rushed for more than 900 yards and gained about nine yards per carry as a sophomore last fall at Washington (D.C.) Archbishop Carroll. He has since transferred to Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate. He already holds offers from Ohio State and North Carolina.
The main concern surrounding Haden is his height (5-foot-8). In that respect, he has much in common with his brothers.
Joe and Jordan Haden, both 5-foot-11, are the tallest siblings. Josh Haden, the other running back in the family, is also 5-foot-8 and never quite lived up to his recruiting ranking.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell believes Jonathan Haden is a more physical running back than his brother, but the worries about his height persist.
"When I compare him to other running backs, size is the big issue," Farrell said. "Will he be able to handle the load and be an every-down back at a BCS school? He might be more of a third-down back and a specialist because that's kind of the way things went with Josh. Josh got his opportunities at BC, but he just wasn't an every-down guy. Montel Harris ended up being that guy who could run between the tackles a little better. It's hard to say. Size is his big issue, and we'll have to see how much bigger he gets over the next year."
Although he's only 5-foot-8, Haden already weighs 190 pounds and has enough strength to make up for his lack of height at the high school level. That's a trait each of the Haden brothers inherited from their father, a former Morgan State track team member who now runs his own gym and works as a personal trainer.
"It's about being fast, being explosive and being able to have that burst," Joseph Haden said. "Out of all my boys, he's right there with them."
There is one way in which Jordan already stands out from his siblings. He may compete as hard as any of his brothers, but he also knows how to make them laugh.
"He's the funniest," said Haden's mother, Zakiya Haden. "He's the class clown. Jonathan's the family clown. It's being the youngest. He's joking, dancing. He's just a comedian. He always has everybody laughing all the time."
But on the field, he's all business. He understands what's at stake.
Haden has a tough assignment trying to live up to his family name. All three of his older brothers were four-star prospects. Joe Haden was the No. 59 overall prospect in the 2007 class.
"It's a lot of pressure, but to me, I've had the pressure my whole life, ever since I was little," Haden said. "If your brother scored four touchdowns yesterday, you've got to score five. People would always say stuff like that. There's not as much anymore because I'm growing up and I'm maturing. It's gotten a lot better for me."
Sure, his family connections provide pressure. But they also offer him an idea of what to expect.
Haden has already seen his brothers experience all types of highs and lows in their own college careers. Joe Haden was a four-year starter for Florida and a key member of the Gators' 2008 national championship team before getting selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Josh Haden and Jordan Haden both ended up transferring from their original schools.
All three brothers have given Jonathan Haden plenty of advice as he starts his own college selection process.
"(They said) how often coaches will tell you what you want to hear at first to get you down there," Haden said. "When you get down there, it can be way different. Coaches have a job to do. They have to keep their job. They have to feed their family. You need to work hard when you get down there. It's not going to be easy. When you get down there, you have to work hard because there are other people who are going to want the same spot. You have to work hard to earn your spot."
Of course, Haden already is used to working hard. He had to work just to keep up with his brothers in whatever pickup game they might have been playing at any time. That's the fate of the youngest brother, particularly in a family with this big an age range. Joe graduated from high school in 2007 and Josh finished the following year. Jordan began his college career in 2010. Jonathan is only now beginning his junior year in high school.
How often could he really expect to defeat his brothers at anything? "Some days I'd get so lucky," Jonathan Haden said. "Maybe we'd be playing basketball and I'd throw up anything and make it and would win. They'd get so mad at me because I was the youngest brother beating them."
Of course, he's grown up a bit since then and he still has more room to grow. Haden has two more years in high school to develop his game and catch up to his brothers. His siblings already noticed the way he's changed.
"Every day outside in the back yard, we were throwing the ball around playing tackle," Haden said. "I was just learning from them every day. It was kind of amazing to me, how good they were when I was playing against them. Now they say I'm just as good as they are. It kind of scares me a little."
Realistically, Haden isn't just as good as all his brothers just yet. He hasn't even begun his junior year in high school. His oldest brother is a starting cornerback in the NFL.
But he is playing about as well as his brothers were at this age. Joe Haden has set particularly high standards, but Jonathan would love to emerge as the best football player in the family.
The family clown wants the last laugh.