NORMAN — It didn’t take Austin Haywood long to find a new home. Less than three months after quitting the Oklahoma football team, the Southmoore High alum enrolled at the University of Central Arkansas looking for a fresh start.
“I sent an email out to every school in this division ,basically,” Haywood said. “And they e-mailed me back around the first of January. I went up there two weeks before school started, then made my decision two days before school started, around Jan. 10.”
In choosing a new school, Haywood said he didn’t want to have to sit out a year,. He wanted to play outside of his home state of Oklahoma and wanted an offense that would utilize his skills as a pass-catching tight end. The Bears fit every category.
“Wasn’t considering any others schools,” Haywood said. “It’s far, but not that far. It’s only four hours away from home. So, it’s not that bad. But there were no other schools in this division that were close, besides Sam Houston. But I didn’t feel like I would fit their program and offense. They run the ball too much for me.”
The Bears also did their homework in researching Haywood. It included talking to his high school coaches and to members of the Sooners program. UCA coach Clint Conque wanted as much information on why Haywood left OU in order to talk to him about it and his expectations at UCA.
"It was addressed directly," Conque said. "We are all human. We all make mistakes. But we live in a society of second opportunities. But his situation at Oklahoma was addressed directly."
Because Central Arkansas is a Football Championship Subdivision program, transferring there prevents Haywood from having to sit out a season, which he would have to have done if he went to a Football Bowl Subdivision program. The sophomore has two seasons of eligibility remaining since he didn’t burn a redshirt at OU.
“Once I made the decision, I was set,” Haywood said. “Family basically told me to do what I have to do. Go to school, play football and do what makes me happy.”
Even though he was the No. 2 tight end at the time, Haywood informed the Oklahoma coaches he was leaving the team Oct. 21. The Sooners were 6-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation. Haywood had caught six passes for 42 yards.
The OU coaches gave him another chance near the end of the year to work his way back onto the squad.
That didn’t work out either.
Haywood said he tries not to think too much about what led him to leave the Sooners, a program he had dreamed about playing for since he was a kid. But he does know who was responsible for why it didn’t work out with Oklahoma.
“The main reason was I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do,” Haywood said. “I just had a bad attitude about things. It was my fault it didn’t work out.”
Haywood is joining a Bears squad that is coming off a 9-4 record, and made it to the second round of the FCS postseason.
“All our losses were to conference champions or co-champions,” Conque said. “And that’s pretty remarkable. And as we continue to progress in Division I, we’re certainly learning the landscape of being able to compete with those teams week in and week out, and year in and year out.”
At 6-4, 245 pounds, Haywood should help a Bears’ offense that threw for 3,650 yards.
"One of the key ingredients to our offense is a playmaking tight end," Conque said. "We are not a spread offense, but we do look a lot like Oklahoma. We've been a little void at that position past couple of years. When our offense is really clicking, it's when we have a presence at tight end."
Conque says Haywood can be that presence. But that’s only if Haywood can prevent himself from making the same mistakes he made with the Sooners.
“It’s going to change,” Haywood said. “No doubt. It has changed. It just changed because I really didn’t have no other choice.”
Michael Kinney 366-3537 email@example.com