With the graduation of two starters at cornerback, Illinois looked for a ready replacement to take over for the departing V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence. They hope that early-enrollee JUCO CB Ahmari Hayes can be one of those guys.
Hayes was a prospect in whom Illinois showed late interest and sealed the deal quickly. A bigger-bodied corner, Hayes physically matches up well with some of the more physical receivers in the Big Ten.
“I’m really excited (to get to campus),” Hayes said. “I can’t wait to start this work and get into workouts.”
Hayes has remained in touch with the Illinois staff since his commitment in preparation for his arrival in Champaign.
“They’re just telling me how anxious and excited they are (to have me there),” he said. “I just can’t wait to get back on the field and take a starting spot. I’ve been working out with my coaches out here and doing mainly technique and field work.”
The transition from JUCO to D1 football can be a little easier to make than the transition between high school and college, but Hayes is prepared for the challenge and is optimistic about the opportunity that lies before him.
“I’m more excited than nervous,” he said. “Of course it’ll be a challenge, but it’s one I’m prepared for. I just have to come in and do what I can do. I’ve always been able to adjust to the level of play, so I’m not that worried about that.”
He’s bringing with him a level of confidence that, if his game can back it up, will help him play with a mental edge early in his time at Illinois.
“I’m just happy and excited for this opportunity, so no need to be nervous,” Hayes said. “There’s a reason they are bringing me in, but I just need to stay humble and keep working.”
Hayes isn’t being shy about his expectations to see the field this year, but understands that he has to do his part to get his playing time.
“Personally, I’m expecting to play,” he said. But I already know it’s not going to come easily, so I don’t want to speak too soon. I just need to come in and show that I’m not like every other player, but that I can be better and that I’m willing to work to stand out."