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The 5-foot-7, 170-pound speedster worked out with the Calgary Stampeders in October as a receiver/kick returner. He hopes to attend a mini-camp with the Grey Cup finalists next March. Other Canadian Football League teams have also expressed interest.
“I try not to say one thing and do another,” says Haynes, 25, who served as the lead-off runner for the Canadian 4×100 relay team that won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games. “I think a lot of people are afraid to take that next step and afraid to go after what they truly want. They’re afraid of what might happen and the possibility that things can go wrong.
“But if you focus on all the things that can go wrong, you’re going to outthink yourself and talk yourself out of doing what you want to do.”
Playing professional football is something Haynes has wanted to do since graduating in 2010 from Calgary’s Crescent Heights High School, where he excelled at running back, kick returner and quarterback and was a reluctant superstar in track.
It was Haynes’s raw speed that earned him multiple track scholarship offers from Division I schools in the U.S. But undiagnosed learning disabilities meant he didn’t have the required marks for university.
As it turns out, Barton didn’t have a football team. So Haynes parked his gridiron dreams to focus on track and academics.
On the track, he set a personal best of 10.15 seconds in the 100 metres in 2015.
“People always talked about my elusiveness and quickness and ability to make something out of nothing,” he says. “I know what I can do. I’m confident in myself. And when the opportunity comes, I’ll make the most of it.”
Tackling adversity, to Haynes, is simply a way of life.
“I already couldn’t be more proud of Akeem,” says Ken Rose, who coached Haynes in track and football at Crescent Heights. “If he makes a CFL team, it will be just another incredible thing this young man has accomplished when he could have given up a long time ago.”
Indeed, Haynes never had it easy. At age seven, he moved with his mom, Carlene Smith, to Yellowknife from his native Jamaica. (He initially thought the snow was salt.)
When he was 10, the family settled in Calgary. Carlene held down multiple jobs — as a cleaner, hotel manager and receptionist — to make ends meet. At times, Carlene and her son slept on a mattress on the floor in the basement of a house crowded with other people.
“When I was younger, I woke up some mornings and we didn’t have heat,” he says. “I didn’t have shoes to play sports with. I wore the same shoes for football as I did to play basketball and in gym class.
Grateful for all the help he has received along the way, Haynes wrote a book called Love, Life & Legacy that centres on dealing with hardships. He followed that up with a second book entitled Faith, Fear & Fruition that talks about overcoming mental barriers.