Exuberant. Aggressive. Perhaps “angry.”
Each describes the on-field approach of Notre Dame sophomore defensive lineman Jay Hayes, but both unforeseen and remarkable attrition at his position last season added an unfortunate fourth moniker that illustrates his Irish career to date.
Accelerated. As in: the status of Hayes’ eligibility clock…
Forced into action for a Senior Day tilt vs. Louisville last November, Hayes is as a result a true sophomore rather than redshirt-freshman as planned. Though that reality could prove unfortunate down the road, the Brooklyn, NY-product seemed to benefit from his assimilation to big-time college football (Louisville, USC, and LSU certainly suffice) during the spring as he forged a role in Notre Dame’s defensive line rotation.
Irish Illustrated continues its ND A-to-Z series with this preview of the ebullient second-year lineman.
Hayes plays an integral role as Sheldon Day’s backup as the three-technique defensive tackle, forging weekly playing time in the base defense in an effort to spell Day for what could be additional sub package duties by the senior leader.
Notre Dame’s returning defensive captain, Day was sidelined by injuries in both 2013 and 2014 – the presence of a solid-at-worst backup is essential on paper. Hayes’ ability to penetrate and skate down scrimmage could prove invaluable over the course of 13-plus games. Hayes is on the short list as a potential impact backup on Notre Dame’s 2015 roster.
He’s needed at tackle, but is the 285-pound Hayes better equipped to play defensive end rather than tackle? If that theory proves true, Notre Dame’s interior would suffer if Day (and potentially, Jarron Jones) aren’t consistently in the fold due to injury.
Day’s backup last season, fifth-year senior Justin Utupo, was valuable relief, but too many snaps late taxed him and limited his effectiveness near season’s end. Hayes risks being overexposed as more than a rotation player, though he showed well in the spring and this scenario is unlikely as the team prepares to reconvene for summer conditioning next month.
Hayes appears to be a future gem, but he wouldn’t be the first to suffer a sophomore slump at this level.
Pulling a late-season redshirt is not unique to Hayes, though his Game 11 situation was admittedly extreme.
2010 freshman Kona Schwenke debuted in Game Nine (Tulsa) and appeared in the season’s final five games as a result (Hayes played in each of the final three last fall). Schwenke made an impact early, recovering a fumble and recording two tackles in his second outing, a 28-3 Senior Day win over Utah. The numbers are his only statistics as a part-time, late-blooming freshman.
Hayes made one tackle and one assisted tackle last season. He missed part of his second outing (USC) due to an ankle injury suffered during the contest.
Hayes earned four-star status per Scout.com and thereafter became the *18th defensive lineman among 44 official recruited during the Kelly, Charlie Weis, and Tyrone Willingham eras to debut as a true freshman.
(11 of the *18 are from the Kelly era: Victor Abiamiri, Pat Kuntz, Morrice Richardson, John Ryan, Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson, and Kerry Neal/LB. Under Kelly: Kona Schwenke, Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch, Chase Hounshell, Ishaq Williams/LB, Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, Daniel Cage, Grant Blankenship, Andrew Trumbetti, and Hayes.)
Hayes is on pace to contribute heavily as a second-year player and is thus at least at a pace commensurate with his ranking and eligibility status.
Hayes responded to his emergency action last November with his first career tackle at the tail end of his debut game, a stop for no gain at the shadow of Notre Dame’s goal line against Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon.
With the Cardinals threatening to push their three-point lead to 10 with just over five minutes remaining, Hayes was the second of three straight true freshmen (Andrew Trumbetti, Hayes, Greer Martini) to make a play in the Irish goal line stand that resulted in a missed Louisville field goal and a (later squandered) chance to win or tie by the offense.
“Jay Hayes has been ready every week, we were hoping not to play him. And it was a difficult decision. I’ve had to weigh a lot of factors, a lot of factors from my standpoint. Look, we think Jay Hayes can play at the next level. We think he’s that good of a player. We haven’t had a lot of NFL defensive linemen hang around here for five years (smile).” – Brian Kelly on his decision to pull Hayes’ redshirt for Game 11 last fall.