Hillsboro grad plans to continue football career

By Gary Van Cleave, Special to Hillsboro Free Press

Zayne and Zander Haslett grew up like most sets of brothers.

“My relationship with Zayne has grown as we have gotten older,” Zander, a recent Hillsboro High graduate, said. “We used to fight all the time as brothers do, but over time we have learned to get along and become close. It was awesome experiencing a year of high school with my brother. I enjoyed being able to play sports with him and this made our relationship even stronger. It’s gonna be hard when I go to college because I won’t be able to spend as much time with him or see him develop as an athlete.”

“My brother has always been a great role model,” Zayne, an incoming HHS sophomore, said. “He was the one who got me into the weight room and would always make sure that I was at summer conditioning and weights. But also he’s my friend and a fun person to hang out with.”

The relationship between older bro and younger one is unique in multiple aspects.

“First of all, not many can say that they have a quarterback that can throw to them whenever they want,” Zander said. “I improved in my game a lot just having a quarterback at my disposal at all times. This was nice to have when I was preparing for my senior year and we will use each other in the future to develop as players. Zayne is also planning on pursuing a career in college for football as well as I am. Our relationship is also unique in the fact that we spend most of everything we do together. We both played the same sports and go to the gym together. Also our bedrooms are right next to each other so we see one another 24/7 basically.”

In a couple months, the bond between the two will likely strengthen harder than a cement wall when Zander ventures south on US-77 Highway for Winfield and the beginning of his college football journey.

“I am a player who may not pass the eye test. I am only 5-foot-11 and am pursuing to play tight end in college,” the Southwestern College signee said. “This is something that I am not ashamed of and I rely on my work ethic to get me by. I went from being the weakest in the weight room to surpassing a 1,000-pound total by my senior year for squat, clean and bench combined.”

Two years ago, a freak lisfranc injury to his right foot sidelined him for the remainder of his junior football and basketball seasons.

“Getting injured my junior year was a low point in my life,” Zander said. “I worked so hard the summer going into my junior year knowing that my time to play varsity had finally come. It was terrible dealing with the physical and mental pain that my lisfranc injury had on me. I tried my best to keep myself distracted but it was extremely hard.”

The injury occurred in a football game when his right foot got caught underneath a defender who landed on it with all his weight. He tore a ligament in between his big toe and the adjoining toe so doctors had to screw them back into the original spot again.

Somehow he didn’t break the ankle, but Haslett said he thinks the injury that he had was actually worse than breaking it just because it’s such a complicated injury.

“I had two surgeries and lots of physical therapy. It was very hard getting through the rehab process and I am still not done dealing with this painful foot injury,” Zander said. “My senior year every single day I iced my foot in an ice bucket for 20 minutes then put it in a warm water bucket for 10 minutes. I tried to hide my limp every day but had to push through the pain to get through the season. I am feeling much more confident now as I continue to strengthen my foot every day and feel ready for my college football journey.”

“It took a toll on him. But I believe that no matter how much gets in his way he’ll power through,” teammate Wyatt Plenert said. “His toughness is shown on the field with hard routes and swift feet and off the field with his recovery and practice preparation. He is always willing to put out for the guys that got his back.”

“All he cared about was being able to come back for football season and play to the best of his ability,” Zayne said.

His senior year he had 750 receiving yards on 45 receptions and seven touchdowns over nine games. He was named first-team Central Kansas League tight end.

“He hurt his foot, but the dude still puts out his all,” Plenert said. “He’s a great leader and helps guide the way for his fellow seniors as well as underclassmen. He has great football knowledge and knows his way around the field. He might not be the quickest or strongest, but he’ll catch you off guard everytime. He really put the offense together this year with me and the guys. Southwestern really got a good dude.”

“Zander is a man of high character, a hard worker and faces his challenges head on,” teammate Jesiah Gooch said. “Many players would quit when they had an injury like his. These qualities plus his athletic ability and great hands helped him come back to have an outstanding senior season.”

“The most impressive thing about Zander’s comeback was he didn’t let it hinder how hard he was gonna work when he got back,” Lincoln Wichert said. “As soon as he was able to put work in to improve his game he was. He wasn’t just putting in the required work, he was putting in extra work because he had set his goals on playing college football. “

Other schools that offered him were Friends, Bethany, Baker, McPherson and Kansas Wesleyan.

“Playing college football means so much to me,” Zander said. “I have known from a very young that I have wanted to be a part of a college program and am very thankful I have gotten the opportunity to do so. At first I doubted myself but my Coach, Demetrius Cox, helped me through everything and gave me the confidence to put myself out there. After my final game as a senior I had peace knowing that it was not my last football game I would ever play.”

Even though he may never be 100% again with his right ankle.

“My doctor has told me that I most likely will never be completely 100% in my foot ever again,” Zander said. “But I anticipate being 90% for sure.”

“Zander was super tough even before the surgery,” teammate Seth Driggers said. “He probably played two more games than he should’ve last year because he refused to let it get him down. This year he never complained even with all the games he missed and how much pain he was in.”

He now takes that bad boy style with him to college and life in the KCAC.

“SW is getting a player who will work extremely hard to get a chance to get on the field,” Zander said. “They are also getting a player who is a student-athlete and will perform in the classroom as well as on the field. I hope to be a leader on the team someday and realize that college ball is a lot more difficult than high school and will take way more hard work to get a leadership position.”

“That hard work and dedication are most important,” Zayne said what he’s learned most from Zander.

“My message to Zayne would be to lead by example,” Zander said. “He needs to establish himself as a player to earn respect from his teammates. Just texting your teammates to get some extra work in goes a long way and is super important for a leader to do. I would also tell him that he needs to keep others accountable and not be okay with laziness on the field or in the gym.”

His Trojan tenacity and winning attitude will no doubt be felt by Zayne and others as the 2024 high school season begins in under three months.

“I have tried my best to show leadership by example to the rest of my team while in high school,” he said. “I strived to push my teammates every day and compete with them to achieve improvement. I brought energy to practice every day and had fun with my teammates. It helped me feel better about my legacy after winning the Team MVP award at the end of the season which was voted on by the team.”

An honor that came through sacrifice and sweat.

“I also take pride in my ability to run routes and find the open zone in the defense,” he said. “I also have been told that I have great hands and that is needed for a good tight end.”

A chance to become a great tight end in college. A story about a dawg whose love for football overcame the pain from injury to reap success from the gridiron through the weight room with his younger brother. A bond that will never be broken again.

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