Fans lined sidewalks outside as Brian Kelly, assistants and players made their way into the stadium. Hayes, a four-star linebacker from Ann Arbor, Mich., stood and watched along with several other recruits on campus.
Kelly stopped by to deliver a hug. Same goes for defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, the area recruiter. Then came All-American linebacker Jaylon Smith, perhaps the most excited of all.
“During the pre-game march when they walk into the stadium coach Kelly stepped over and gave me a hug and said he would speak to me soon,” said Hayes, a USC commitment. “I talked coach Gilmore briefly. Jaylon came and dapped me up … It was pretty dope man. It was crazy. I had a great time.”
Before the game Kelly checked in again, this time with a little more time. He talked with Hayes and his mother to deliver a personal message. Overall, Notre Dame made Hayes feel like a wanted and needed prospect.
“When we went into the recruiting (part), I was the first recruit coach Kelly talked to,” Hayes said. “He pulled me and my mom and my mom’s fiancee into the room and we talked for about 20 minutes. The message really was, ‘Hey, you’re a special recruit. We want you to come in and make an immediate impact. Obviously, we’d use you similar to how we use Jaylon. We’ll just go from there, continue to recruit the heck out of you.’
“I’m just optimistic about the future. Obviously, the win, a 38-3 butt whooping was icing on top of it.”
After kickoff, Hayes went into study mode.
Two summers ago Hayes worked out for defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder at Irish Invasion camp, scoring a scholarship offer after the performance. That experience helped Hayes get a feel for VanGorder’s expectations and scheme.
Hayes assessed Smith with that background in mind. Needless to say, there was plenty for the 6-foot-4, 249-pound prospect to absorb.
“He makes everything look like clockwork,” Hayes said. “It’s textbook man. Jaylon is a freak of an athlete but as far as fundamentally, the dude is fundamentally sound. He does everything the right way. Motor, his motor getting to the ball and finishing on tackles. Near hip in open space, like when the quarterback was running a draw, near hipping him and just exploding through. All things that I can take away, especially the motor.
“The way he gets to the football, things that I believe not only myself but all young players, that’s huge. Effort on getting to the ball even when the ball is going away.”
Watching Smith go from precocious former five-star prospect into legitimate NFL talent is something of which Hayes has taken note.
“They’ve been able to develop Jaylon from point A to whatever this point is right now,” Hayes said. “For him to come in as a freshman and seeing his development to where he is now, what kind of level he’s playing at, gives me extreme confidence in the coaching staff and what they can do for me in terms of my development.”
Hayes remains on track for an official visit to Notre Dame in mid-October when the Irish host USC, to which he’s been committed since last summer.
USC remains in steady contact. Hayes is looking at another trip to Los Angeles on Nov. 28 for the regular season finale against UCLA. But he could decide to move the trip up, so nothing is finalized just yet.
“It’s picked up tremendously in the last month or so,” Hayes said. “Obviously, I was talking to the coaches once or twice every two weeks, once a week. Now that they can call, Sept. 1 was the first day that they could call and what not, it’s really picked up. It’s really picked up. Contact with them had picked up since I camped at the Rising Stars camp back in June. It’s gone to a whole other level since they could call and what not.”