COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- "I'll have the mac-n-cheese," Derrick Hayward would always say to his mom.
It was the food of choice, nearly every day for as long as Hayward can remember. No boxes, no pre-packaged containers, and not from any supermarket deli. No, Hayward preferred the ewey, gooey, cheesey delight that his mom made from scratch. Lots of fresh grated cheese, and baked in the oven. That's the way he liked it. On Mondays after practice, and hours before his games, it's what Hayward craved for meals.
With pasta on the menu most every night, it's a wonder Hayward needed to gain weight to play the college game at Maryland. But after his redshirt freshman season, the focal point for Hayward, a rangy 6-foot-5, 210-pound former defensive end, was to gain weight and re-shape his body into that of both a blocking and pass-catching tight end at his new position at UMD.
Since his senior season at Salisbury's Wicomico High School, Hayward has been an intriguing prospect to coaches. The former outside linebacker had the footwork, speed and pass rushing skills to be a threat at the college level. Hayward's long frame and arms, and his quick first step allowed Terps head coach Randy Edsall to offer him as a defensive end prospect a year ago.
Most figured that Hayward would need to redshirt his first season, no matter what position he played, to allow for growth and maturity. By the time he got to campus, the defensive end spot was overloaded with Quinton Jefferson, Zeke Riser, Roman Braglio and Andre Monroe, and the tight end spot was light, thus prompting his move to tight end.
"For one thing the position he was playing was so deep and we didn't have a lot of depth at tight end last year," said tight ends coach John Dunn. "His body, his frame, and the way he runs...and his football skills allowed us to try the move. I think the attraction was that he could get on the field a little bit earlier and make an impact on the offensive side of the ball."
Dunn and Edsall decided on the move early in fall camp, and Hayward spent his freshman season grooming to be a future pass catcher. Since the move, Hayward has shown some flashes that the move might have been the best decision.
"He's very tall, he's long, and he's athletic. When we brought him in he was about 200 pounds, and now he's up to about 230 now. He's a guy that can be a little bit more of an outside end," Edsall said. "We can utilize him more in the passing game, stretch the field vertically because he runs very well and use his height [6-5]. Hopefully he can be a red-zone threat. We're excited about him. He hasn't done it, yet but that's what spring's for."
March 8, there was no question that Hayward was fully entrenched at the tight end position. When the Terps opened spring practice, Hayward was in the mix to get playing time alongside P.J. Gallo and Andrew Isaacs.
"We use our tight ends all over the place," said Dunn. "They can line up at fullback, on the end as a blocker or pass catcher or moved out."
But it's still a process for the lanky athlete, who on March 10 in Byrd had a chance for a big catch and run in scrimmaging. But Hayward dropped a wide-open ball on the left sideline, one that left him slapping his hands so hard in disgust it sounded as if an engine backfired he was so upset.
On another play, he was given a "welcome to college receiving" when after catching a short pass in the flat, freshman linebacker Jalen Brooks blew him up before he could even turn up field. All part of the process for the intriguing but still-raw and slender talent.
To help with his weight, he was put on a more manageable diet, mac-n-cheese notwithstanding.
"I ate five-meals a day with a lot of proteins, vegetables. And yes, I did get some pasta, but not every night," he said laughing.
For now, it's Gallo and Issacs at the top of the spring depth, with Hayward right there trying to earn some playing time. His length and athleticism continue to make him one of the more intriguing prospects in camp, and also on special teams block units with those long arms. But first and foremost the Terps need some field-stretchers, 'move' guys at end, and he fits the bill early with Gallo more the blocking type and Isaacs also just a freshman.
"I feel that we are really deep at the wide receiver spot and the other guys at tight end are good blockers, but with my presence in there with my size and speed it can really help take the pressure off of Stefon [Diggs] and Deon [Long] because I can line up wide and not like a typical tight end," Hayward said March 8 after practice in Byrd Stadium.
The challenge for Hayward is learning to become a blocker, and changing his demeanor from strictly a pass catcher to a complete football player.
"I did play some tight end in high school, but it was solely to catch passes," Hayward said. "Now that I'm here, I realize the key to getting on the field and doing my job is to be a blocker. No, I mean a dominating blocker. That's what I lack."
Dunn likes the possibilities of Hayward moving the chains and being the guy in the middle of the red-zone making plays.
"I know I can run routes but I'm hoping that I can be that guy who can make the block on the edge and take out the linebacker, too. I want to catch passes but I don't want to be just guy who can do one thing. I think I bring to this team something that defenses will have a hard time figuring me out."
Even though new offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is not Hayward's position coach, the effects of his coaching trickles down to the tight ends, too, as the Terps now want to play faster up front under their new offensive line coach.
"He's a coach that we all can learn from. He does a lot of coaching and he's a coach that encourages his players. My roommate, [OT] Moise Larose, says that if you just listen to him you be a better player."
At this point, depth charts and positioning mean little to Hayward. He understands that there's a lot of work to be done prior to the opener in August.
"I don't know where I fall in the mix. I'm just working hard and hopefully when the season starts I fall into the top two," he said.
Special teams are important for Hayward now as well, and assistant coach Andre Powell's face lit up this month when he spoke of Hayward on kick block teams.
"Right now I'm on all of the teams, and number one on punt and kickoff returns," Hayward said.
The tight end position is one of the spots under the microscope this spring, as the Terps don't have a go-to guy yet, nor a senior, experienced end that they have enjoyed the last several years in the form of stalwarts like Dave Stinebaugh and Matt Furstenburg.
Hayward spent the winter re-shaping his body by eating right and following the plan of the trainers and nutrition staff. With spring break just days away, you can bet some of mom's mac-n-cheese will be part of the festivities back home.
"Not too much, though. I'll have a few weeks of practice left when I come back," he said. "But I can tell you that I can almost taste the stuff right now."
Hayward Long on Potential at TE
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