Haeg's parents recount extraordinary career of their 'normal' son

Rick and Janet Haeg, center pose with their daughter Laura and son Joe. Submitted Photo

Lake Shore native Joe Haeg has had a football career marked with a number of successes, moving from a contributing member of the state-qualifying Brainerd High School Warriors to an all-American part of the dynasty at North Dakota State University to starter in the NFL.

For his parents, Rick and Janet Haeg, his career has been exciting, nerve-wracking and a lot of fun to watch.

Growing up, Joe played multiple sports, but really took a liking to hockey. That all changed around his sophomore year, when he had a growth spurt and football as a whole just seemed to click more for him.

“Really, he wasn't a standout (in football) prior to that,” his mother said. “He was just a kid who worked hard and loved to play. So when it took a little bit of a turn for him, and he was able to play varsity in high school, that's when he really wanted to focus more on it.”

He received several offers across the Midwest to play college football at the Division-II level, but knew he wanted to play Division I, despite garnering little interest from schools.


“He played in a camp for NDSU, and he ended up being one of the best campers, so to speak,” Rick said. “So then NDSU knew of him, but they still didn’t offer. That’s when Joe decided, instead of going Division II, to walk on at North Dakota State.”

“We were so proud of seeing his work ethic - just how hard he worked to play at that level and to fulfill that dream,” Janet said. “He just really believed he could do it, and it all worked out for him.”

He joined North Dakota State just as the program launched into the stratosphere. The Bison won their first FCS national championship his redshirt year. As a starter for the next four years, Haeg and the Bison won four more titles.

“It was fun that we were in at the beginning of it all because his redshirt year was the first year they won the championship, and so then to continue that and win each year and be a part of that excitement as it was building up, that was really like a dream come true for all of us,” Janet said.

In his final two seasons at NDSU, Haeg earned all-American honors, making a career in professional football seem incredibly possible.

“I ran into (then-Bison coach Chris Klieman) once, and I just introduced myself as Joe's dad,” Rick said. “He kind of looked at me, because I’m only 5 feet, 11 inches (Joe is listed at 6 feet, 6 inches) and then he told me, ‘Joe is doing great, and he has a lot more football ahead of him.’”

That said, he never let himself think too much about it, wanting to give his college career and academics the focus they deserved.

That changed, as did the lives of the Haeg family, during the 2016 NFL Draft.


Draft experts were all over the place in trying to place Haeg on the board, but the general consensus was that he would be picked between the 100th and 150th pick. He slipped just past that range, and was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the 155th pick.

“That moment was just very surreal - to hear him saying, ‘Hello, coach. Yes, I would love to,’” Janet said. “It was pretty emotional for all of us … You just kind of have to pinch yourself, because this happens to other people. Not us. We’re just normal people.”

Through all of Haeg’s success on the gridiron, his parents maintain that he is a pretty normal guy.

“He’s really funny,” Rick said. “Those that know what he was like growing up and how he was in college - he had to stick to the books and stick to football and do his thing. He still had fun and stuff, of course, but doesn’t really have a wild side, until he gets out on the field.”

Things became more surreal for them early in Joe’s professional career, when he quickly earned a starting job, then received on-air praise from then-Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden (now the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders).

“Usually, as an offensive lineman, you only hear your name when you get a penalty or a defender flies by you or something like that.”

Rick and Janet attended a handful of games in the first few years of Joe’s time with the Colts. In the first game they attended, Joe found out shortly before the game he would be starting.

“The first game we went to in Indianapolis, for me … when he came out on the field for the first snap, I kind of lost it,” Rick said. “It was unbelievable.”


In the years since, Rick and Janet said things have “settled down” and they have adjusted to his schedule.

“This is his job,” Janet said. “People will ask us questions about it and we tell them that we don’t really ask him football stuff ... typically when we talk to him, it’s about your everyday stuff - his dog, his house, things like that.”

While the two insist they are still Vikings fans, they now have plenty of Colts gear as well, but that now needs to be replaced as Joe recently signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After an ankle injury in 2018 cost him a starting role, Joe is now looking to prove himself.

“This is the opportunity he wanted,” Janet said. “He wanted a one-year deal to go and prove it. He wanted to compete for a starting job again, and then be able to go down there and play with (former New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady, who gets the ball out of his hands quickly.”

“Joe is in a good spot,” Rick said. “He has played every position (on the line) and so he has a good resume for playing anywhere and being a top-six man for any team, but Joe wants to get a starting spot and see what happens from there.”

Janet, a media specialist at Nisswa Elementary School, has found an unexpected perk of being the parent of a professional athlete.

“At school, now I have this other connection with the boys,” she said. “We can talk football and they know that I know what I'm talking about. That’s been fun for me, personally.”


Joe’s parents also say they have enjoyed conversing about their son’s success with the residents of the Brainerd lakes area, who have shown “a ton of support” for their hometown athlete. Janet said Joe hopes to move back to the area some day, saying the area is his home, even when he is in Indianapolis, Tampa Bay or anywhere else the sport may take this “normal guy.”

“He is just such a down-to-earth guy,” Janet said. “On top of it all, he’s still just our son and a brother to our daughter. We just enjoy being around him, and there is so much more to him than football.”

Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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