That’s why his death in Arlington Sunday afternoon from an undisclosed illness is so hard to accept. His former coach at Iowa State reflected on what Haywood meant to he and the program.
“He set such a great example and was a role model for players on our team,” said McCarney, who watched Haywood rush for 2,862 yards between 1998 and 2001. “He did it with class. He left a phenomenal legacy here, a lifelong impression with all of us in the program. Ennis Haywood was at the heart of our turnaround of this program. He’s in God’s hands. His spirit will live on with all of us.
“All of us are just shocked. He’s only 23 years old and just beginning his professional life. He was an outstanding husband and father for his daughter. His wife is eight months pregnant with their second child right now.”
All of those that surrounded themselves with Haywood admit they were better for it. From Cowboy defensive back Darren Woodson’s comments in the Dallas Morning News to those from McCarney and ISU running backs coach Tony Alford, Haywood was well liked by everyone.
“Ennis was like a son to my wife Tina and I,” said Alford, who recruited Haywood to Ames, in a release from the University. “He was the toughest player I have ever coached. Ennis always had a smile for you. He was a great kid and I was lucky to have known him. Coaches teach players but some players also teach coaches. I grew as a coach while I was able to teach him.”
Added McCarney, “He was a man’s man. He was one of the classiest gentlemen I’ve ever been around off the field in college athletics, yet he was an amazing competitor and warrior on the field. I’ve never been around a tougher football player than Ennis Haywood, and anybody in the football program that was around here would say the same thing.”
Haywood's 3,468 career all-purpose yards rank fourth in Cyclone history. His 27 career rushing touchdowns rank sixth all-time. He led the Big 12 Conference and ranked 10th nationally in rushing (123.7 ypg) during the 2000 season, in which Iowa State posted a 9-3 record, including an Insight.com Bowl victory over Pittsburgh. Haywood averaged 5.0 yards per carry during his career in which he was Iowa State's named offensive MVP three times. Only Troy Davis averaged more career yards per carry (5.6 ypc) than Haywood.
Haywood was a Doak Walker Award semi-finalist in 2001. After signing an NFL free agent contract with the Dallas, he led the Cowboys in rushing during the 2002 pre-season with 120 yards on 31 carries, earning a spot on Dallas' practice squad last fall.
He showed signs of taking that career to the next level this mini camp, said McCarney.
“Tony Alford just talked to him Thursday and things were going outstanding,” the ISU head coach said. “He felt really good about Coach (Bill) Parcells and the new staff. He felt like his chances were outstanding to go from practice squad in 2002 to the regular roster in 2003. He liked his chances to have significant playing time.
“It’s just staggering. You feel for his family. I remember the day Tony Alford and I drove up to Dallas Carter High School to recruit him. What a great first impression he left with us, the first time that we met him – his personality, confidence, class and all it did was get stronger as he matured as a man and great through our program. All of us in the Cyclone football family are shocked and saddened. I feel terrible for his mom, wife and that family.”