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Petaluma High School grad starts for Indiana in Big Ten Conference

Times have certainly changed for Luke Haggard.

It wasn’t long ago he faced top local competition as a two-way lineman at Petaluma High School and then up the road at Santa Rosa Junior College.

But now, it’s normal for Haggard to play opposite NCAA football powerhouses such as Wisconsin, Maryland, and perennial national-championship contender Ohio State.

After an award-laden career close to home, Haggard plays for the Indiana Hoosiers of the elite Big Ten Conference, and he contributed right away in 2020, starting four games at left tackle as an undersized recruit — weight wise, anyway — slated for a redshirt year.

And Haggard, who owns a 6-foot-7 frame and massive, mitt-like hands, didn’t just play, he played well. And he was vital to historic team success. Suiting up at a noticeably-slender 275 pounds, Haggard was part of an IU offensive line that allowed just 10 quarterback sacks all season, good for 16th best in the NCAA.

Furthermore, the underdog Hoosiers, known primarily as a basketball school, were 6-2, earning an Outback Bowl appearance during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Led by Coach Tom Allen, Indiana finished the season as the No. 12 team in the nation.

The stakes weren’t too high for Haggard, despite the early playing time. When injuries along Indiana’s front line drastically altered his first year in the Big Ten, he was ready.

“When it was my time to get in and start playing, I told myself, ‘This is why you came here. It’s time to step up and jump into it,’” he said. “There’s no time to hesitate too much.”

At that moment, Haggard wasn’t far removed from being a 220-pound, two-way lineman at PHS. With elite height, he earned top league honors and served as captain in 2017, but he received little attention from college scouts.

At SRJC, he dealt with a period of uncertainty after a switch from defensive end to offensive tackle, but Haggard was sure to hit the weight room, beefing up to 255 pounds. His effort, along with guidance from Bear Cub coach Lenny Wagner, eventually led to an All-Bay 6 Conference selection and multiple scholarship offers.

His physical transformation continued in Bloomington, and as Haggard prepared to start a Division I game for the first time at Michigan State, he took a moment to reflect on his journey and where it brought him.

“Walking onto the field before we padded up, to warm up, and you know, there’s nobody there. Just looking at the stadium like ‘I’m actually here,’” Haggard said. “I’m playing in this game. Knowing that I’m going to play on TV and my parents are here to watch, it was definitely a surreal moment.”

Haggard had some expected jitters, too. But how long did they last? “Honestly, I would say the first drive. I was nervous. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. After the first drive I was like ‘I can do this. I can play here. That gave me my confidence I needed. After the first play.”

Petaluma High School football coach Rick Krist watched on television as Haggard’s confidence grew exponentially, and he saw an increase in ability, as well.

“He stands out to me in those games, with his quickness. He’s got a skill set that other left tackles don’t have.” said Krist, who noted he thought Haggard played his best game against Ohio State. “I think if he gains a little more weight, he has a really good shot at the NFL.”

Haggard isn’t thinking that far ahead just yet, but he is gaining weight as he enjoys the ride. His status as a D-1 lineman solidified, Haggard spends his time working out, maintaining a high-calorie eating regimen and studying, with a focus on business management as he prepares for the 2021 campaign.

Incredibly, Haggard said he’s increased his weight to 295 pounds, close to the 300-pound mark that’s nearly standard for offensive line prospects.

Further helping his development is the extra year of eligibility afforded to NCAA athletes due to the pandemic. Haggard, who turned 21 in January, said he’s unsure if he’ll use the extra time, but it’s already helped — he didn’t have to relinquish his redshirt season last year and gained valuable experience.

Back in Petaluma, where it all started for Haggard, team sports have finally returned to local high schools as the pandemic wanes. Petaluma High and Casa Grande, now together in the Vine Valley Athletic League, will have shortened seasons, as Haggard and the Hoosiers did. A former Sonoma County League Lineman of the Year at PHS, Haggard advises prep players to keep it simple, especially during this not-so-simple time.

“All I’ve got to say is enjoy it. Have fun,” Haggard said. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t overthink things.”

Complicating matters further, local prep players striving for an athletic scholarship have fewer games to impress college scouts.

“You’ve definitely got to put all the work in, but at the end of the day, it’s a sport you love,” said Haggard, “Just go out there and ball out and have a blast.”

Krist says his former team captain has the right idea. “I always remind the kids: Just focus here. I want them to enjoy the moment that they’re in, and if they’re lucky enough to get to the next level, then we’ll focus on that toward the end of the journey. I think Luke did that. He enjoyed high school. He wasn’t so caught up in the next chapter until it came time to make a decision.”

His focus on the present and love for competition, not to mention his natural ability, has taken Haggard pretty far — from a lightly recruited lineman unsure of his place on the football landscape to a fearless player called upon to protect the edge against four- and five-star recruits.

“He was always a focused kid. Always even-keel,” says Krist. “He doesn’t get caught up with things that are around him. He’s going to put in the work every day. He’s not going to make excuses. He’s going to do it the right way. He did that at Petaluma High.”

So as it turns out, with all that’s changed for Haggard, much has stayed the same. He still wears No. 70, just as he did at Petaluma High and SRJC, after all, and he’s found a home with the upstart Hoosiers.

“I just really want to show up and impress the coaches. I don’t have a goal, specifically,” says Haggard. “Definitely, work hard and help as best I can. I’m just happy to be on this team. I have a lot of pride being able to play with these guys every day, and I’m very happy being here.”

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