FLORENCE, S.C. — Hartsville linebacker Kevon Haigler had been waiting since seventh grade for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas selection committee to call his name.
Not just for the recognition that comes with it, but to prove a point to his older brother, Laquan.
“When he went to the North-South game (in 2013), I told him I’d make it to the Shrine Bowl,” the younger Haigler said. “So we had a little deal going on. He was always like, ‘You won’t be better than me. You won’t make it.’
“So I said I’m going to prove you wrong.”
While he might have exceeded his brother’s expectations, he’s certainly more than lived up to everything the Red Foxes could have hoped for when he joined the program.
“He’s physical,” HHS coach Jeff Calabrese said of his 6-foot-2, 225-pound LB. “He’s tough, smart and physical. He’s what you would want in a defensive player. He understands his job and he knows where he needs to be to make our defense successful.”
Haigler’s upside was so great that Calabrese and his staff threw him into the starting lineup his freshman season.
“I was very nervous,” Haigler said. “I didn’t want to make any mistakes. I had to realize that I was going to make mistakes and just learn from them.”
It took almost a full season, but Haigler started to peak just when the Red Foxes needed him. Their lower state playoff game against Chapin in 2016 turned out to be his arrival as defensive force.
“I think I had three sacks and six tackles that game,” he said. “It was just an amazing game. Everything just started to click. I really started to understand what they were teaching me throughout the season.”
Now a senior, Haigler’s been a steady force for the Red Foxes ever since. Even on nights when the stats don’t jump off the page, his presence is usually felt, Calabrese said.
“He’s not really a big stat guy every night. A lot of times he just does his job and that allows others to make the plays,” Calabrese said. “He’s very good at making his reads and being in the right place at the right time.”
Still, his 71 tackles rank third on the team behind Bailey Carroway and fellow Shrine Bowl linebacker Justin Abraham. He’s right behind Abraham with 4 ½ sacks, leads the team with 13 tackles for a loss and has also picked off three passes this season.
Those numbers and his track record were good enough to garner a full NCAA Division I scholarship offer from Appalachian State, who Haigler has been committed to ever since.
“I know it’s going to be a long journey, but I feel like my coaches have prepared me for it,” he said. “The key now is just keep working and keep getting better every day.”
While his steady play is part of the reason the Red Foxes find themselves in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs, Calabrese said its Haigler’s leadership that helped right the ship after a shaky start with a young team.
HHS was 3-3 at one point, but has rattled off five straight wins thanks in part to a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 16 points in any game during that stretch.
“This young man has led our football team the last couple years, but especially this year,” Calabrese said. “He’s been such a phenomenal leader setting the tone, talking to the team and addressing the team every day.
“Without his and Justin’s leadership and things they’re doing off the field, this team wouldn’t still be playing.”