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How this Haws is leaving mark on the gridiron, not the hardwoods, for No. 19 BYU

An impromptu lesson from his father, a former Utes tight end, after a disappointing performance in the seventh grade spurred BYU defensive lineman Caden Haws to get tougher, work harder and excel

BYU defensive tackle Caden Haws pursues the Boise State quarterback during a game in 2020. Haws has basketball DNA in his system, but chose to pursue football instead.
Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

When BYU defensive tackle Caden Haws was playing youth football in the seventh grade in Arkansas, “he was getting his tail handed to him pretty good” in one particular game against a “kid that was a little more street tough,” according to his father, former University of Utah tight end Kurt Haws.

Father took son to the side of some bleachers while the eighth-grade game was going on and the duo practiced against each other for the next hour or so.

“You know what? From that time forward, it never happened again,” Kurt Haws said. “It was my choice. He wasn’t too happy about it, but it was a memorable moment and he never forgot it. Since then, he has never been afraid to put in the work. He hasn’t been dominated like that since.”

Having been recruited to BYU as an offensive lineman (more on that later), the 6-foot-2, 315-pound Haws switched to defensive line a few years ago and is now a starter for the Cougars, having replaced NFL-bound nose tackle Khyiris Tonga in the lineup.

Ranked No. 19 in the AP Top 25, BYU (5-1) takes on 5-1 Baylor on Saturday at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, in a preview of a future Big 12 matchup. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said Wednesday that starting QB Jaren Hall “is completely healthy now” and should get the start for the second straight week.

Roderick said Baylor Romney (concussion) is back practicing, but third-stringer Jacob Conover received more reps this week.

“Everybody is ready to go,” Caden Haws said Tuesday in a Zoom meeting with reporters. “Losing to Boise was tough, but everybody fought until the end. That has been the morale in practice this week. We are here to fight, and we are excited to get to go play Baylor this week.”

Kurt Haws is the second cousin of former BYU point guard Marty Haws, but basketball was never in the cards for young Caden and his brother, Luke, now an offensive guard at Division III Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

After he was a somewhat surprising selection in the fourth round of the 1994 NFL draft by Washington because he only caught 12 passes for 200 yards and three TDs in a two-year career at Utah, Kurt Haws settled in Arkansas as a medical sales rep and introduced his sons to football.

He didn’t want Caden to wrestle, even though he had the frame for it, because of the risk of separated shoulders and the like.

Kurt Haws originally wasn’t all that happy that BYU, and not his beloved U of U, first offered Caden a scholarship. Utah came in late with a preferred walk-on offer. Caden also had offers from Army, Navy and Air Force.

Caden’s high school team, Pulaski Academy, drew national attention because it only punted on rare occasions.

“In a seven-year span when my boys were involved in the program, I only saw them punt twice,” Kurt said.

Meanwhile, Caden became a three-star prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite, and was ranked as the 17th best center in the country. He was a member of two Arkansas 5A state championship teams at Pulaski.

There were some hiccups on his journey to BYU, however. The Cougars’ former coaching staff under Bronco Mendenhall pulled his offer in 2015 — months before they headed off to Virginia — and Caden was in limbo for a couple months before BYU’s new offensive line coach in 2016, Mike Empey, re-extended the offer.

After a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to St. George, Utah, Haws played in only two games in 2019 and redshirted. His family moved to Utah to be closer to his mother Shari’s ailing mother.

Why did this onetime top-20 center move to the other side of the ball?

Haws said that he was in the BYU weight room one day and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki saw him lifting and asked if he had ever thought about playing defense.

“I kinda blew him off a little bit,” Haws said. “I was like, ‘No, no, I am a center. I play center.’”

BYU strength coach Nu’u Tafisi heard the discussion, however, and, having played defensive line at East High, Mt. SAC and California and briefly in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks, got in his ear about it.

Haws gave it some thought, and called his father to talk about it. Kurt Haws told him to go see what head coach Kalani Sitake thought about it.

“So I went and talked to Kalani and he said, ‘Oh, we wanted to switch you a year ago — go to defensive meetings today,’” Haws said. “And I never looked back. That’s how it happened, kind of a funny story.”

Haws said he is still learning the position because he had never played D line before.

“I feel like I am one of the stronger guys on the team and it has worked pretty well for me,” he said.

He played in all 12 games last year and made 15 tackles. Through six games this year, he already has 15 tackles (two for losses) and a quarterback hurry and has forced a fumble.

Kurt Haws isn’t surprised. He said his son has always been “competitive, tenacious and a really good finisher.”

Why did Tuiaki suggest the change?

“He is one of the strongest guys in the weight room, on the team,” Tuiaki said. “It has been that way for the last couple of years. He brings a lot to the table as far as strength and stoutness. He is a guy that has done a phenomenal job. He’s a student of the game.”

Tuiaki said Haws has been able to teach his fellow defenders what O linemen are thinking in given situations, knowledge that has proved helpful.

Fellow defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner said the “Southern gentleman” from Arkansas has been a godsend for the big D linemen.

“Caden is awesome. He is a super chill dude. And it is nice because Caden was an O lineman, too. So he brings a lot of O lineman technique and talk to the room that a lot of us have no idea about,” Tuioti-Mariner said. “So, he is really just an awesome dude. … Super polite and nice.”

He’s all those things off the field, of course.

On the field, he’s now got some street toughness in him, thanks in part to that hour back in the seventh grade.