“I felt that in high school that I was underrated big time,” said Hayes who prepped at Richmond, Va. Varina High school. “I had good stats but because my grades weren’t good I didn't have any offers. Marshall was the only school who recruited me, and I decided to go the JUCO route so I could get better offers playing there and get qualified to play (at a Division I school).
“Out of high school I went to a prep school and was there for just three weeks and I never played there because they shut down their football program. So I went to Lackawanna College and they put me on a waiting list so I missed the whole football season.”
The 5-11 192-pound De'Chavon Hayes’ running style was far from the ‘three yards and a cloud of a dust’ characteristic that many running backs in that region shared and Hayes’ athleticism was on full display for his two years with the Falcons. Even the natural adjustment period that one experiences playing at a higher level, didn't affect the former Varina High school standout.
In 2013 Hayes rushed for 837 yards in seven games with seven touchdowns and averaged 119.6 rushing yards per game. However, even as freshman for Lackawanna he already started to garner attention as he posted 788 yards on 77 rushes scoring 11 all-purpose touchdowns.
“Playing on the East Coast you always hear about how much better the guys on the West Coast are,” Hayes remarked, “how they are quicker and more athletic. In high school I was just a running back. So I wanted to play as much as I could for my JUCO team, so I was also a kick returner, punt returner, wide receiver…I wanted to know all these positions so I could know the game better.
“I know if I did that things would come easy to me so I took advantage of that opportunity and just took off.”
Long before posting impressive stats in high school and junior college, Hayes’ blazing quickness earned him the nickname ‘Gump’ as in the classic Hollywood movie character Forrest Gump who was a speedy runner in his own right in this blockbuster film. The clip below further explains the origin of that moniker.
“I got that nickname when I was 11 because people said I was as fast as Forrest Gump,” Hayes said. “Coach joked that I would continue on running until the fans put up the Stop signs (laughs).”
His exploits didn’t go unnoticed by several programs, including of course Arizona State. Running Backs Coach Bo Graham first contacted Hayes in the spring following the running back’s freshman year.
“He was tremendous,” Hayes recalled his first meeting with Graham. “He showed me a lot of respect and I wasn’t expecting that from any coach. He believed in me and told me straight up that I could be a big impact for the team. He showed me on film what he expected from me, that I could be much more than a running back and that I could be on special teams a lot as a returner.
“After meeting him for the first I knew that I could make Arizona State my home. I just had that feeling the whole time (during the recruiting process) that this would be the school for me and the best fit.”
Hayes took just one trip to ASU, an official visit during the Sun Devils’ last game of the regular season, the Territorial Cup game versus Arizona. A convincing victory that weekend over their archrivals greatly helped to materialize the vision the running back had for his future in Tempe.
“The atmosphere there just gave you an amazing feeling,” Hayes stated. “It was my first time on the West Coast and I liked the weather there, the palm trees, the vibe from all the players…it felt like home.
“I loved that game and the intensity was so high, and I was saying to myself that I got to be part of this. I saw myself playing like D.J. Foster – sometimes at running back and sometimes at wide receiver. I know we will have some packages for both of us to mix things up and have both of us on the field at the same time. Both of us are definitely going to be a threat with guys like Jaelen Strong and Eric Lauderdale.”
"I really like his spirit,” said running backs coach Bo Graham in a previous interview about Hayes. “To see the impact he has made on his teammates at his junior college and listening to the feedback of the people there…he is a late bloomer because he was a small skinny running back when he first got to Lackawanna College, and was a walk on and after they finally gave him a few reps he showed everyone what he can do and was put on scholarship. His story, his character, talking to him on the phone…that is why I get excited when I talk about him.
“He will be a great teammate, and he will affect the people around him positively. He's a dangerous player and our offensive system is what in the end got him here. Being able to have a returner back there that people respect and fear – he gives us that. He saw what a JUCO running back like Marion Grice did here in such a short amount of time. Junior College guys know that they don't have that much time to make it happen and he knows that he can come in right now and he doesn't have to change anything and we don't have to change anything for him to have that type of success. We just did it with Grice and we told De’Chavon that now we want to do this with you. This is why I think we are able to land the best junior college players in the nation."
Aside from potential success on the field, Hayes knows that the program’s environment in general, largely shaped by its team culture, is one that is conducive for his success as well as his new teammates.
“Coach Todd Graham always preaches about team character and discipline and that’s both on and off the field,” Hayes commented. “That is what helps you win big games along with your style of play. It was a great recruiting process with Arizona State and they made me feel right away like I was already part of the team. I liked talking to D.J., to Jaelen…me and Marion had a one-on-one conversation for an hour and I took a lot in from that conversation. It was important for me to see JUCO guys like him and Jaelen do well in the program.
“I like this offense because it’s versatile and you never know what is coming. It’s not just me; a lot of players can do different things in this offense.
“Don’t get me wrong, I had a good visit to Oklahoma and everything went well there,” Hayes said. “But when I visited ASU I knew that this was the school for me. So I know the decision I made was the best for me and if I could do it all over again I would choose the same.”
As a junior college transfer, Hayes knows that he will be expected to hit the ground running and provides early and often impact on both offense and special teams. It’s a challenge that he welcomes with open arms, and truth be told would never have it any other way.“I think I can bring high intensity and speed,” Hayes described. “I’m a playmaker that can change the game immediately. I know when I’m out there big things can happen. This year this offense can go to a whole different level with the new players coming in and the players coming back. Oh my gosh it’s going to be crazy… “It’s been a long journey from high school, going to a prep school, then Lackawanna and now I’m at ASU. I’m not thinking about the pressure that’s on me too much. I’m just gonna ball out and do what I love. Football is my passion so I don’t worry about pressure because I’m coming here to do what the team expects me to do.” Click here for Hayes’ highlights.