(WHTM) — The day before NFL training camps were set to begin, Grant Haley lost his father in a tragic accident. The 56-year-old hospital CEO was killed in a jet ski accident on July 24.

Dr. Haley was the dean and CEO of University of Florida college of medicine in Jacksonville. He was the first Black CEO in the hospital’s history and was the first Florida resident to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think he was a giver,” Haley said. “He was a generous man. He dedicated his whole life to helping others in the medical profession. It was just a tragedy. But it’s given me, my brother and sister a little more of an idea of how to maintain our own legacy in our own ways but also continue things that he instilled in us every day since we were kids.”

Grant was the eldest son of Leon and Carla, both doctors. His father was a gifted hospital CEO while his mother runs her own practice. According to an article in the York Daily Record from 2017, the Haley household didn’t have a TV or video games growing up, and the three Haley kids focused solely on school and sports.

“Those little actions are going to make you the most successful person you can be on and off the field,” Grant said.

His parents met in medical school at Pitt, and their Pennsylvania ties run deep. Carla is a graduate of Penn State, while Leon grew up in Pittsburgh. Football was always the glue for the Haley family.

“[Losing my dad] was a challenging time for me and my family, just in general,” Haley said. “So the game is important to me, just the family aspect of what family did for my football. How it brought us together.”

When everything seemed so dark last summer, football was what kept Grant going. It was something to channel his energy into, and a goal to focus on when everything felt uncertain. Grant spent six weeks at home at the beginning of the 2021 season after being waived by the Saints. He was picked up in mid-October by the Rams, and now is playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Penn State career

“This is so important to me to win the game, but it’s bigger than just a game for me,” Grant said. “Regardless of the impact that I may have [on the field]. I think there were a lot of times where I doubted myself and if this was really what I wanted to do after that big moment in my life. But I think this just proved to me that the adversity wasn’t going to break me. And [I am still] able to do the things that make my dad proud and make me happy.”

Grant Haley burst onto the scene during his time at Penn State in 2016, best remembered for returning the blocked field goal for the game-winning touchdown against then-undefeated Ohio State in 2016. The Nittany Lions went on to win the Big Ten Championship.

“Never let that moment make you who you are,” Haley said of how Penn State Coach James Franklin taught him to be. “You know who you are as a player and as a person. As long as you do that and give it 110 percent, you know you’re going to be successful.”

His impression on Franklin started long before that fateful game in 2016. Haley was actually committed to Vanderbilt, until Franklin left for Happy Valley and asked the disciplined quarterback to change his commitment.

“Coach Franklin iterated so many things to us and the core values and just taking games one game at a time,” Haley said. “Sometimes people think it’s crazy to think one game at a time or when {Coach tweets] ‘Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa,’ but I think we have that mindset of not looking at the whole thing and the big picture but just looking at it piece by piece and taking it day by day.”

An important lesson years before Grant’s resolve would be challenged by his father’s tragic passing. When that day came in July 2021, it was his Penn State coaches by his side.

“I feel like the support from Penn State and even from high school has just been tremendous,” Haley said. “Coach Franklin and Coach [Terry] Smith they stopped by on the day of my father’s funeral to say hello to my grandparents. I have a deep spot in my heart for a lot of the Penn State football family.”

In Grant’s senior season at Penn State, life came full circle intercepting a pass against Pitt that he nearly returned for a touchdown. He finished his college career with 139 total tackles with 6.5 for loss, plus five interceptions.

NFL Career

The 26-year-old was an undrafted free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft and was signed by the New York Giants. He spent the 2020 season with the New Orleans Saints on both the practice squad and the active roster.

“When it’s between the lines, that’s the little switch.,” Haley said of his playing style. “I’m pretty calm and collected, just trying to continue whether it’s education or just my knowledge of life. But when it’s in between the football field, I think that separates me mentally.”

Haley was waived by the Saints in on the last day of August 2021, just about one month after his dad’s passing. After six weeks of sitting at home, Haley was signed by the Los Angeles Rams on October 20, 2021 to play on the practice squad. He was promoted to active roster in January 2022.

“You take everything into perspective; you don’t take each moment for granted,” Haley said. “I think what kind of clicked in me was when I got the opportunity to be back out here in LA and practice, regardless of what my role was, I wanted to strive and feel like I made an impact whether it was as a scout team player, special teams or even on defense.”

Grant says he’s just passionate about everything he does. A trait he surely inherited from his father who dedicated his entire life to what he loved to do: medicine.

“Especially in these last couple months, going through different adversity things in my own personal life, just living in the moment, enjoying the people around me and telling people that you love them,” Grant said. “That has been who I am now. I think we all kind of go through different aspects of life in our lives, but for me, I think I always find my identity outside of football and I think my identity is becoming the more family aspect man, the faith aspect man.”

Super Bowl

As the Rams made their push into the playoffs, Coach Sean McVay and staff started adding some late-season signees into the secondary, including Haley. Eric Weddle came back to make a run at the Super Bowl. Multi-year special teams contributor Nick Scott saw increased time in the defense.

“From the first moment I got here, I thought this team was capable of winning a Super Bowl,” Haley. said. “It’s just do you have the pieces week in and week out to consistently stick to the process that’s gotten you there.”

Some of that familiarity with the personnel came from Haley’s relationship with Penn State teammate Scott. In fact, when Haley moved into his Los Angeles apartment, his neighbor on the above floor was Scott and his wife.

“It was just funny that we were brought together again after being away for three years,” Haley said. “It was just that peace of mind having a good, old friend who has seen you through those youth years where you’re 18-22 years old. It’s a blessing.”

Haley says this defense is all about that next-man-up mentality, and if anyone’s number is called on Sunday, they will be ready to play.

“We’ve got an older group, so a lot of guys have been in these positions and big games,” Haley said. “Coach [Sean] McVay just reiterates taking care of your process, whatever got you to this position, don’t stray away from it.”

To some, a Super Bowl played in a team’s home stadium may be an advantage. But regardless of where the game is played, the weeks leading up to the big game are fraught with distractions.

“Really, just trusting your process and taking care of the things that you can control,” Haley said. “There’s a lot of distractions going to be going around. If we can get rid of those distractions early and focus on what’s the most important part of winning this game, we’re going to be successful.”

But if Haley can already remained focused and determined through great tragedy, the excitement of Super Bowl week could just be looked at like a blessing.

“We’re playing football in February when nobody else is,” Haley said. “I’ve never done that, so I’m going to enjoy that.”

It’s safe to say the Rams may have an extra guardian angel on their side when Haley and his teammates suit up to play in Super Bowl 56.

“You have little moments in your life that kind of click and you say ‘Ok, I kind of feel like I know you’re there,'” Haley said. “Little things like that kind of help you throughout the process.

“I’m going to live in the moment and enjoy the experience. It’s a gift to be able to have the family that I have to help me, support me and get me there. Even though my dad may not be present, I still believe that with his parents there and my aunt, and his nephew, my little cousin there, his presence is brought through them. Not just through them, but through my brother, sister and me.”

The Rams will face the Bengals in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 13 at 6:30. The game is broadcast on NBC.