Kelvin Hayden played for Illinois during the 2003 and 2004 seasons after transferring from junior college. The Chicagoan was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round and has been a fixture at cornerback ever since. He helped them win the 2006 Super Bowl by intercepting a pass against the Chicago Bears.
Back on campus as an Honorary Captain for the Spring Game, Hayden enjoyed speaking with Illini players and imparting his knowledge.
"I wanted to talk to the players in the locker room, especially the cornerbacks. As a cornerback, you have to have a bad memory, you have to be confident. You have to really have a swagger about yourself and have a certain feeling about yourself because you're a key part to the defense. Passing has become much more of a deal now than running the ball, and you have to have good corners."
Did he see any potential NFL players among the cornerback group?
"I think so. Actually, (Terry) Hawthorne is a guy I've been hearing about. My junior college roommate was from East St. Louis, and he said Terry Hawthorne is a pretty good guy, and he's going to Illinois. I try to keep up with him."
Hayden spoke with Hawthorne specifically, including his switch from wide receiver to cornerback. Hayden did the same thing in college.
"I spoke with him. I asked him about the move, and he liked it. He's confident. I told him I did the same thing and to just go out there and show that you can play. When you get that opportunity, you can just make the best of it.
"He didn't say anything about (the switch to cornerback). He just said whatever it takes to win. That's the kind of guys you want around. It's not about guys who think only about them. It's about guys that want to go out there and compete."
Hayden and Hawthorne seem to have much in common.
"I was one of those guys that wanted to do it all. Whatever was gonna get me on the field. As a player, I enjoy the game. It doesn't matter whether I'm a corner, receiver, anything goes. Having fun brings a lot to it. That's my whole deal, just having fun."
Hayden had only one year at cornerback in college. As a junior, he caught 52 passes for 592 yards for an offensively-challenged team. As a senior, he accumulated 71 tackles and four interceptions, sufficient to be a high draft pick.
Was it difficult for him to adapt to the pro game after just one year at cornerback?
"I was a project guy. I just wanted to soak in everything, learn the defense. The ins and outs of playing corner in the NFL. There is a difference. It's speed and technique difference, and there's more of a mental difference as well. I just wanted to compete and continue to play hard and do what they told me to do, and you'll be fine."
Hayden learned quickly, starting all five years of his pro career. He appreciates his good fortune of playing with a winning team.
"In my five years, I've been fortunate to be in two Super Bowls. Unfortunately, we didn't win the last one. But some guys don't make the playoffs in their entire careers. So I just want to keep it going and just continue to make the playoffs. It brings a difference for the regular season. It's much more of a challenge."
Since his pro schedule overlaps with the Illini football schedule, Hayden isn't able to get back often. But he's glad when he can.
"The last two years I haven't had a chance to get back. The first couple years I did, but the last couple years we had a home game when you had a home game. When I do get back here, it's always a good feeling."