When Josh Haymer entered Fayetteville Tech as a freshman in the fall of 2017, he experienced a feeling he hadn’t known in years.
He was, for the first time in a long time, the new kid on the block.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Haymer said. “My confidence really wasn’t there, because I’d never played in a college game.”
It was a sharp contrast to Haymer’s former role as a staple on Village Christian Academy’s varsity squad, where he’d played since eighth-grade. He was the Knights starting point guard during his later seasons, including the team’s 2016 and 2017 state championship campaigns.
Three seasons later, the 6-foot-2 guard has once again moved into a role of being a dependable leader, persevering through a pair of lengthy injuries to be one of the Trojans’ most consistent players.
As a red-shirt sophomore, Haymer is the team leader in minutes played, averaging 26 through the Trojans’ first nine games.
He’s tallied 6.7 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the floor and dishing assists to the tune of 2.8 per game.
It’s the kind of consistency Haymer has been seeking since he came to FTCC, joining up with the Trojans in the program’s second season.
“Since we were such a new program, a lot of teams didn’t really respect us,” Haymer said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but I could tell from the first practice that we were going to work hard.”
Haymer showed off the fruits of that hard work through the first 20 games of the season before a fractured heel forced him to the bench, where he remained for the last 10 games of the year.
Haymer had settled into a groove before that, adapting to the pace of the college game.
“There were some ups and downs early. In December, the game just slowed down for me. I started picking up my game,” Haymer said. “Then break happened, and the first game after the break, I ended up fracturing my heel.”
Haymer instead focused on the intangibles, giving advice and encouragement while building relationships with his teammates.
“That experience taught me a lot, and I grew a lot of relationships with people I still talk to,” he said.
On the whole, the season was a success for the Trojans. The team’s 17 wins remain a program-best.
Going into the 2018-19 season, a fully healed Haymer had even higher expectations for himself and his teammates.
“I think that was probably the most talented team we ever had at Fayetteville Tech,” Haymer said. “If everything would have stayed intact, I think we would have made a pretty good run.”
Instead, Haymer blew out his knee early in season, playing just two games.
Haymer’s injury was initially diagnosed as a sprain, and he sat for four weeks. But his return was anticipated stamped out before it even started.
“The day after I was cleared, my first practice back, I went to plant and heard my knee pop,” Haymer said. “I knew it was over after that.”
Haymer had surgery Jan. 10, 2019 and embarked on a nine-month journey to return to the court, including rigorous physical therapy before returning to running and conditioning drills.
He was cleared for play Oct. 11 and returned to his duties as the team’s starting point guard, albeit this time as an experienced player on a team full of newcomers.
It’s exactly the type of leadership the team needed, said head coach Brian Hurd.
“He’s really a coach on the floor,” Hurd said. “He’s taken a young team under his wing. And he’s someone who’s exemplified what it means to overcome adversity and use it to fuel his drive to become better everyday.”
The Trojans, who have seven freshmen and three transfer players, hit some early bumps, opening the season three straight losses.
The team found its stride in mid-November and has won five of its last seven games going into the winter break.
For Haymer, the turnaround is another reminder that perseverance is key, and that a comeback is always within reach for those who want it bad enough.
“I’m proud of how the guys responded to the losses,” Haymer said. “I can see that they’re really passionate about it, and that they’re serious about us wanting to win.”