Catching up with Reggie Hayward

The Florida Gators take the field in "The Swamp." At Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines defend the turf at "The Big House." Stadium nicknames and the home field advantages of those great venues are a staple of big time college football. According to Reggie Hayward, you can add "The Cage" to that list.

That's the nickname the former Iowa State and current Denver Bronco defensive end has bestowed on the Cyclones' Jack Trice Stadium.

"Your guys have to come to 'The Cage' next week and you're going to lose," Hayward told former Texas Tech All-American and fellow Bronco defensive lineman Montae Reagor. That exchange took place in the Invesco Field at Mile High locker room after the Broncos had dismantled the previously unbeaten San Diego Chargers last Sunday, 26-9.

Reagor and Hayward's lockers are next to each other so there's bound to be a lot more jawing going on this week leading up to the big Saturday night contest at "The Cage" between the 5-1 Cyclones and the 4-2 Texas Tech Red Raiders.

With 13 Big 12 veterans on the Bronco squad, college football is a hot topic around the locker room,and these are heady times for Cyclone alums like Hayward. Iowa State has matched its highest ever ranking in the polls with a chance to move up with key games on tap for this coming weekend.

"You mention the best in the nation, and you've got to mention the Big 12," Hayward said. "It's the number one conference in draft picks every year so you've got to give credit where credit is due."

"They (current Cyclone players) are making us proud. I don't think they realize how much excitement and pride they are giving us alumni and previous players."

"We've got a lot of people from different Big 12 teams and they're all jabbering about what's going on with Iowa State."

One player who's not jabbering much these days, according to Hayward, is Bronco wideout and former Iowa Hawkeye Kevin Kasper who came to the team in 2001 along with Hayward.

"He's been kind of quiet," Hayward said. "He was happy during the first half of the (Iowa State v. Iowa) game, but then he got quieter as the game went on."

Kasper was a good sport after the game and congratulated Hayward on his former team's win. Asked if he gave Kasper a hard time, Hayward said no.

"I didn't throw it in his face," he said. "After all, we're expected to win."

Keeping up with the Cyclones and college football is great fun for Reggie Hayward, but NFL football is business and Hayward is trying his best to carve out a niche with the resurgent Broncos, who trail Oakland by one game in the race for the AFC West title.

During summer training camp, Hayward was pegged as a potential starter, but saw his stock fall somewhat during the preseason. He played as a reserve in the Broncos' first two regular season games, then was placed on inactive status for last week's Monday night game at Baltimore.

"It was frustrating being on the sidelines at Baltimore," Hayward said. "But I have to do the things they want me to do on the sidelines, like keeping stats, helping someone out with a play, or seeing something. You just try to help as much as you can."

That Monday night fiasco where the heavily favored Denver team fell way behind the underdog Ravens due to a series of special team and defensive disasters led to a midweek shakeup in the Bronco roster and Hayward was reactivated for the Chargers game last Sunday.

Hayward was reactivated and played around 25 snaps against the Chargers, performing admirably.

"I played consistent and solid, strong in some areas, not so strong in others," Hayward said in self-analysis. "Overall, I played pretty well."

"They wanted me to have the opportunity to gain some experience. Hopefully I'll be up again next week."

The main thing that's been holding Hayward back is something that has dogged him throughout his football career -- his inability to keep weight on. He weighed 265 before Sunday's game, close to the 270 that the Broncos would like to see him play at.

"The Broncos supply all the meals, so it's been easier for me to keep the weight on," Hayward said. "I feel comfortable with the weight."

Hayward was chosen by Denver in the third round of the 2001 NFL draft after a stellar career at Iowa State, capped off by All-Big 12 Conference honors. His quickness and agility made him attractive as a rush end and he played in the final six games of the 2001 season in Denver, recording 22 tackles (16 solo) and three sacks, all of which came in the same game. That tied a Bronco rookie record.

"My overall goals are to become more consistent and a better pass rusher," Hayward said. "I just try to keep working on the things you typically want out of a pass rusher. I learn something new each game."

As for playing for Denver, one of the marquis teams in the NFL, Hayward couldn't be happier.

"I love the organization," he said. "I love the area. This is a great place to be. You have the mountains, you have lakes. It's not too big and it's not too small. I came from Chicago --- which is big, moved to Iowa --- which is small, and this is right in the middle."

When Hayward signed his letter of intent with the Cyclones in 1997, he was widely recognized as the first "Blue Chip" recruit of the Dan McCarney era. He was a prep All-American out of Dolton, Illinois Thornridge High School and played every game of his college career, starting each game his final three years.

Hayward was a key player in the Cyclones' rebuilding program, which culminated with a 9-3 record in 2000, including a win in the Bowl, the first bowl victory ever for the Cyclones. The significance of his years in Ames is not lost on Hayward.

"I take great pride in helping to start the new tradition at Iowa State," he said. "When they accomplish what they are doing, we remember that my class was the beginning. What the Cyclones are doing now is another layer. They are really making everyone proud."

Perhaps Hayward will start another tradition with "The Cage" nickname. Cy -- bird --- cage --- you get the picture how he came up with it.

"It's just a little nickname I gave it," Hayward said of his former haunts at Jack Trice Stadium. "If it catches on and I'm the one that named it, that's great. But I'm going to make a friendly wager on the game with (Montae) Reagor and I know I'm going to win because it's his guys that have to go on the road and visit "The Cage."

Cy rules the roost at "The Cage"

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