BEAUMONT, Texas — Devwah Whaley needed a strong, constant male role model in his life.
Steven Haynes wanted a second chance to provide that kind of guidance.
So when Haynes moved into a quaint, northeast Beaumont home with Whaley’s mother, Mary, around five years ago, everyone’s lives improved in profound ways they all struggle to adequately detail.
“It’s pretty hard for me to describe,” Devwah said during a recent interview with SEC Country in his living room. “But it’s meant a lot. My mom was a single parent and he came into my life and helped me with a lot of things. He helped me mature.
“He basically is my dad. I love him to death.”
Whaley, one of the top 2016 running back prospects in the country, reported to Arkansas over the weekend to begin summer workouts. He is expected to compete for immediate playing time in the Razorbacks’ backfield that lost rusher Alex Collins, who rushed for 3,703 yards and 36 touchdowns over the last three seasons.
And according to Whaley, none of it would have been possible without the two most significant influences in his life.
“They have been very, very important,” Whaley said of his mom and stepfather. “I don’t think I could have made the best decision without them guiding me and giving me a lot of advice. They’re my best and biggest supporters.”
Mary and Steven actually dated when they were high schoolers in Beaumont themselves, but Mary called off the relationship when she thought it was interfering with her prolific track career.
“He was a senior; I was a sophomore,” Mary recalled. “My coach said I needed to stay focused.”
Mary ended up setting records on the hurdles and ran track collegiately at BYU. Steven stayed in Beaumont and became a firefighter, working odd hours that made it tough for him to be an active participant in his four children’s lives and activities.
“I was pretty much a single parent raising my three girls and one boy,” Steven said. “With the way I worked — 24 hours on, 48 hours off — I couldn’t be at a lot of things.
“It’s been a blessing for me to be able to go through this with Devwah because I wanted to do it with my kids.”
Mary — now an elementary school teacher in Beaumont — and Steven reconnected when Devwah was in middle school, and the two men quickly bonded over a love for sports.
One of the first things Steven and Devwah did together was attend a Lamar University basketball game.
“There were also a lot of things I could talk to him about,” Devwah said. “My mom being a female, there’s obviously some stuff that was just easier to talk to him about.”
Around three years ago, Steven — a 32-year veteran of the Beaumont fire department — became an inspector there, meaning he finally had a normal work schedule. With that, he was front and center for Devwah’s incredible high school football career and his wild, often stressful recruitment.
Devwah’s performance at Beaumont’s Central Medical Magnet High School made him a hot commodity in the recruiting world. He collected scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M.
“It was all pretty overwhelming, but it was a blessing and it was also exciting,” Whaley said.
Constant phone calls from coaches, intense pressure to commit and fans from every school bombarding him on social media made the whole thing tough to handle sometimes, he admitted.
Whaley pulled the trigger and gave his verbal commitment to Georgia in late November, but decommitted a few weeks later after Bulldogs coach Mark Richt’s firing.
That’s when all the social media attention really started to wear on Devwah.
“So much negativity,” he said. “People were saying I was stupid and I was making a dumb choice.”
Times like those made it especially beneficial to have two parents in the house.
“We just reminded him that at the college level, you’re gonna have fans of any team you’re playing against saying negative stuff,” Steven said. “You just have to get used to it. Shake it off and move on.
“We all went into the recruiting stuff pretty green, but now I could teach a class on how to handle it.”
Devwah committed to Arkansas coach Bret Bielema in early January and that verbal pledge stuck.
Now, Mary and Steven — who married about a year ago — are planning their weekly trips to see Devwah play for the Razorbacks.
“His momma says we’re playmates more than anything,” Steven said of his relationship with Devwah. “I’m softer on him than his mom is. Mom lays it out pretty straight. I’m the easygoing guy. I’m the guy that says yes when she says no.
“But I hope that I’ve been a positive role model for him.”
No one else involved has any doubt about that.
“It’s truly been a blessing,” Mary said. “It’s been awesome. And not just for Devwah’s life, but for my life as well.”
Arkansas beat writer Jason Kersey visited several 2016 Razorback signees before they reported to campus later for summer workouts. Here is a look at past stories in the Up Next series:
- What has kept Arkansas signee Briston Guidry from being complacent? ‘I just love the game too much’
- After stellar senior season, Arkansas linebacker signee De’jon Harris could have a role on offense
- Why quarterback Cole Kelley chose Arkansas’ offense instead of a more familiar system at Oklahoma State
- Arkansas running back signee Devwah Whaley excited for journey with new ‘brothers’
- A proud momma’s boy, Arkansas’ Briston Guidry skipped prom, stayed home, watched movie with mom
- Arkansas signee Jordan Jones withstood pressure from Nick Saban, remained committed to Razorbacks
- What’s life like for a 6-foot-7 quarterback? Arkansas’ Cole Kelley embraces being an unusually big signal caller
- Arkansas’ T.J. Hammonds credits 5 a.m. workouts — and the guy running them — for development