Daelin Hayes knew what to expect at Notre Dame.
Not only did Hayes, a four-star linebacker from Ann Arbor, Mich., visit earlier this season, he’s been on campus multiple times over the last couple years. But this time around still had a unique feel. Hayes was fresh off a de-commitment from USC and considering all options.
He’d been committed to the Trojans since the summer before his junior season. Notre Dame got him on campus for the season opener anyway and again for the USC game for his official.
“This visit was different in itself because I’m no longer committed,” Hayes said. “It was a whole different ball game in that respect alone. That’s not even going into the fact that it was an official visit. Obviously, me being and the market and what not, it was a great opportunity to see what Notre Dame has to offer, which I have a fairly solid understanding of Notre Dame with the campus and what not. They’ve been recruiting me since I was a sophomore. I’ve been on campus quite a few times.”
Notre Dame still had a few new things to put on display.
Hayes met with head coach Brian Kelly on Saturday shortly after arriving. He also met with linebacker Jaylon Smith, a former five-star prospect well versed in a high profile recruitment. Smith imparted some words of wisdom before beginning preparation for the game.
“It was a few things,” Hayes said. “One was how you separate yourself on the college level. Everybody in high school isn’t going through a rigorous workout and what not. That’s kinda how kids separate themselves, putting in work. In college everybody is putting that in — strength and conditioning, you’re doing the same strenuous workouts everybody is doing. You separate yourself through the mental aspect and learning the playbook. Understanding schematically what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, he said once you have a grasp of that concept that’s when you see your game start to elevate.
“When your game starts to elevate, that’s when you’re making plays on Saturday nights. He told me the same thing Manti Te’o told him: ‘You’re a highly touted recruit, you’re one of the best, do the same thing here. Remain focused and get better. The last thing he left me with, if I do choose to come to Notre Dame, he’s passing down the No. 9 to me.”
Once the game started, Hayes tracked Smith.
“It was amazing seeing how he’s grown and matured as a player,” said Hayes, who has been keeping tabs on Smith since his days as a recruit. “It gives me all that much more confidence in the coaching staff in how they develop.”
Hayes moved into the game day environment by walking to the stadium with the players and taking in warmups from the sideline before moving into the stands.
He sat with uncommitted targets like four-star safety Brandon Burton and four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch. He also mingled throughout the day with commitments Tony Jones Jr. and Tommy Kraemer, among others.
He found it a comfortable situation.
“Those guys are great guys,” Hayes said. “It’s great to be around a group of young men that are similar to you. It’s just a great group. Sometimes you get a few commits and you don’t really vibe with them as far as how you fit into a class. They welcomed me with open arms. Those guys are great guys.”
Moving forward, Hayes has more visits planned.
Ohio State (Nov. 7), Michigan State (Nov. 14), Oregon (Nov. 21) and LSU (Nov. 28) are all set to play host next month. Hayes expects to have a final decision in early December. He’ll enroll at the program of his choice for the second semester.
Those other programs will have to top the Notre Dame visit environment.
“I’m just taking my time,” Hayes said. “Taking my time and going through the things that are important to me and checking off my list as far as what a school has and what not. Notre Dame set the bar pretty high.”