LEXINGTON, Ky. — A sometimes shiny sphere with three holes.
That’s good enough to qualify as a bowling ball for most, but not for Kentucky left guard Nick Haynes. No, there’s a science behind the pin-punishing weapon.
“The ones you have in the lanes are plastic,” Haynes explained one day after football practice. “They’re not willing to react to the oil in the lanes, but my bowling balls have synthetic cores so they’re able to react better than the ones that are there.”
Haynes is a proud owner of seven synthetic balls and five 300 games — 12 strikes in a row, one in each of the first nine frames and three more in the 10th.
It’s the pinnacle of perfection in the sport Haynes started playing when he was a 3-year-old living in Alaska.
His dad, Stephen, was stationed 30 miles southeast of Fairbanks at Eielson Air Force Base. Stephen and Dede, Nick’s mother, had to look for indoor activities for Nick and his older brother and sister.
“Winter came in August, early September in Alaska,” DeDe said. “And then shortly thereafter it was below zero.”
Haynes remembers his early days of bowling, lifting the ball up on a ramp and watching it slide down the piece of equipment made for the youngest of bowlers. It didn’t take him too long to graduate from that level.
“As you can imagine, Nick was the top-of the-range size 3-year-old,” his mom said. “He looked like he was about 5.”
Today, he stands 6-foot-3, 316 pounds and is a veteran anchor on Kentucky’s offensive line. The junior has started every game this season and played in all but one game dating back to his redshirt freshman year.
“He’s very intelligent,” offensive line coach John Schlarman said. “He’s smart, he studies the game — sees things before they happen.”
It’s hard to picture Haynes on a lane instead of the field, or trading in cleats for silly looking shoes. But Haynes the bowler is well-known by his teammates.
Fellow offensive linemen Cole Mosier and Dylan Greenberg are Haynes’ roommates, and every now and then they’ll accompany him to the alley.
“He like brings his own bowling ball, but I don’t really know what he’s talking about,” Greenberg said.
He’s heard the plastic vs. synthetic spiel, too.
“Every time we go, they tell me not to bowl with them cause I embarrass them,” Haynes said. “I try to not bring my actual bowling balls with me when I go with them. Try to make it fun.”
And as if clarification was needed: “They’re not as good as me,” he said.
But bowling has meant more to Haynes than the 300 scores. It was the constant activity he could count on as he and his family circled the country as his dad moved from base to base.
“Find the closest church. Find the closest bowling alley. That’s how I looked at it,” Haynes said.
He was born in Peoria, Ill., moved to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, then came to Alaska from 3 to 7. From Alaska to California and finally to Niceville, Fla., where Nick lived from sixth grade until coming to Kentucky.
Stephen Haynes is retired after more than 22 years of service and he and DeDe have settled in Florida.
“With us, even though I have a very close-knit family, our core, as well as our extended family, my military family, is just as close,” DeDe said. “With Nicholas, it’s the same thing.”
Adapting to new places and situations is something Haynes grew used to.
“I think I’m well-prepared to do a lot of things in life that other people aren’t,” he said. “I’ve had a motley of different interactions and stuff. I’m good with everybody. I know all colors, all faces. It doesn’t matter. I think of them as people; I don’t think of them as anyone else.”
And as he faces new situations in school, football and life, his mom is quick on the bowling analogy.
“If you can’t get all 10 pins at once, you’ve got to be ready to pick up the spare,” DeDe said. “Nicholas is always ready for the spare.”