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Father knows best

6/19/2009

DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md. -- Joe Haden Sr. sits in his office with his son Jordan to his left and photos of his oldest two sons, Joe Jr. and Josh, to his right, trying to hold back tears.

The tears have absolutely nothing to do with anything any of his sons have accomplished on the football field.

Joe Sr. is the father of five sons. Joe Jr. (University of Florida) and Josh (Boston College) are current NCAA Division I-A football players. Jordan, a high school senior, recently committed to play football for Florida. His fourth son, Jacob, is a 16-year-old special needs child, who is unable to verbally communicate, and is at the heart of those tears. His youngest son, Jonathan, is in eighth grade.

Joe Sr., who always stressed the importance of the older brothers looking out for Jacob, recalls two moments that stand out when he thinks of those lessons he instilled.

One instance occurred when Joe Jr. was 9 and Jacob was 4.

Joe Jr. was spending the day lounging by the pool at his grandmother's home. When dinner was ready, Joe Jr. went running to the dinner table but stopped on his way there when he thought of his younger brother.

"I went back to get him because I figured he was probably hungry too," Joe Jr. said. "I went back to the pool [and didn't see him], so I walked around the pool. I wasn't thinking he was going to be at the bottom. I didn't even think about it I just dove in. I got him up and just swam to the side and started screaming [for] help."

Joe Jr.'s aunt, who knows CPR, came running, and was able to revive Jacob while another family member called for an ambulance. Jacob was airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He survived the ordeal and is now a rising junior at Friendly High School (Fort Washington, Md.).

"Those types of things are what really mean a lot to me as a father. Even though Jacob has his struggles, he's the happiest kid that I have. He's way more of a blessing to us than we are to him," Joe Sr. said, while fighting back tears. "I know that he is here today because God put in my heart to [stress] always watch your brother."

Joe Sr. also recalled a more recent moment involving Jordan and Jacob.

"Jordan does a great job spending time with Jacob. When I see Jordan taking time with him, as a father, it makes me proud because Jacob doesn't have some of the abilities that they have," Joe Sr. said. "With Jordan going off to [college], I get concerned about Jacob. I know I'm the father, but he's just so close to Jordan, and Jordan just treats him so special.

"[Two weeks ago] Jacob wanted to go out with Jordan so bad. I try to balance it because Jordan is his own guy too. [Jordan] left and then came back, and took Jacob with him," Joe Sr. said.

Jordan is visibly shaken when talk shifts to Jacob. When asked what he thinks when he hears his father talk about that moment, the 6-foot, 200-pound safety starts to speak, but immediately chokes up and looks back toward the floor.

For one minute the office is silent, except for the sound of a father, mother and brother trying not to cry.

"To me, that's what it's all about," Joe Sr. said. "All this football stuff is great, but if they're not good, upstanding, Christian men, then I'm not going to be a happy father."

The Best Gift

Joe Sr. sold insurance for 14 years. That was his job, but his passion was working with and training his kids.

He had always thought of opening his own business, and was already a certified personal trainer, but when people initially approached him about training their kids he said no.

It was not until a conversation with his wife that Joe Sr. decided to begin training athletes outside the family.

"My wife let me take over the whole basement," Joe Sr. said. "Put down rubber floors, put down the mats, machines, everything. I had a wife that was very supportive."

First, it was a trio of athletes from River Hill High School (Clarksville, Md.), the team that Joe Jr. and Friendly defeated for the Class 3A state championship in 2006, who came to train with Joe Sr. following the 2006 season.

Those players, Mike Campanaro, Malek Redd and Leron Eaddy, all signed with NCAA Division I-A football programs. From those three athletes and Joe Sr.'s three sons, word got out about the Haden training program.

"Me and my wife have talked at length for my initial reasoning for working with my sons - just to make them better. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. Teaching that work ethic and those things I did were not about my business. At that point I was selling insurance," Joe Sr. said. "People are about results. When they can see Joe, Jordan and Josh, and see the kids that I train … it has helped my business tremendously. Anybody who plays football in Maryland, if you say Haden, they know."

Rights Of Passage

It is seemingly the right of every son to try and surpass his father at some point.

It is not much different in the Haden household except that the younger brothers are attempting to surpass their older siblings as well as their father.

Joe Jr.'s moment to surpass his father came on the basketball court one evening in the summer of 2006 before Joe Jr. left for college.

Joe Sr. played basketball in high school and was pretty good. His sons had never been able to defeat him on the court.

"I was really playing real hard - I was playing to win," Joe Sr. recalled. "And he [Joe Jr.] won. After he won he was like, 'Come on dad, be serious.' I said, 'You don't want me to be serious.' I went in the house, and it was bittersweet. I was like, wow. He really put it on me. Since that point, I just shoot jumpers. I haven't really played hard against any of them. To this day, I don't think Joe knows [that I was playing hard]."

"I think he was playing hard," Joe Jr. said. "I felt real good because when I was younger, I started getting faster and stronger, but he could always beat me in races and beat me in basketball. When I finally beat him, I felt real good about myself."

For Jordan, growing up with Joe Jr. and Josh proved to be as much training for football as the drills Joe Sr. taught them. There were bloody noses and bruises as the brothers, who are separated by three years in age, attempted to outperform each other.

"It's been real competitive. We always asked my dad who was best," Jordan said. "With [Joe Jr.], we'd play basketball in the front yard, and he'd always win. One day he let me score some points, but it came to game point and he told me I wasn't going to win. … I don't' know how, but I threw up the ball and it went in, and I said I'm not playing anymore. He got mad and was telling our dad 'make him play me again.'"

"He's being mild. There were a lot of tears. There were a lot of times they'd come in the house crying," Joe Sr. said.

That sibling rivalry contributed to a moment between Jordan and his father that both older brothers got to witness. Jordan, a rising senior at Friendly and an ESPNU 150 Player to Watch, is considered one of the top safeties in the class of 2010.

"One thing that my father said to me that made me real happy was when we were watching my highlight tape and I had a crack-back. It was my ninth grade year and he said that was the hardest hit that any of us did in high school," Jordan said. "For him to say that with J [Joe Jr.] and all of them right there. … J played safety and Josh played linebacker, and they're hard hitters. For him to say that it really meant a lot."

Happy Father's Day

With two sons in colleges separated by more than 1,200 miles and a third son on his way to Florida in December (Jordan will graduate high school in December and enroll at Florida in January), Joe Sr. does not get many moments at home with all his sons.

The last time everyone was home together was two days at Christmas before the Florida Gators and Joe Jr. were preparing for the Orange Bowl.

Joe Sr. said, while his sons were growing up, Father's Day was not considered a special day because the family wanted to celebrate their relationships with each other throughout the year, and not just on one day of the year. But with those opportunities getting fewer and farther between, this year is different.

That is one reason Joe Sr. acknowledges that this Father's Day is special.

"It's huge. It really is. As time moves on, it's going to become more and more special. Now because they are away, getting together as a family is exciting," Joe Sr. said. "For it to happen like that, words really can't measure what it means. To me, family is what it's all about at the end of the day."

ESPNRise encourages comments from its users. Leave a comment below. Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com