Notre Dame junior Jay Hayes has three seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining to fine-tune his voice imitations.
As illustrated by the attached video, Hayes has nearly perfected the intonation and common phraseology of both position coach Keith Gilmore, and the main man in charge of the Irish defense, Brian VanGorder.
But over the next four months and through the 2016 football season, Hayes would do well instead to author a between the lines imitation of his mentor former Irish pocket wrecker, Sheldon Day.
“Sheldon was my big brother, he was the best defensive tackle in the nation,” said Hayes. “He was a great leverage player. He was an undersized defensive tackle, too. Sometimes I didn’t have the best technique inside and that would get me.”
Past tense in the paragraph above is notable: Hayes is no longer an undersized defensive tackle a la Day. He’s instead an oversized Rush End, and to date, Gilmore likes what he sees from the 290-pounder.
“First we were short of numbers,” said Gilmore of the decision to move Hayes to Rush End, a position vacated by graduating senior Romeo Okwara. “Jay was a guy we thought had some flexibility. He plays with a lot of passion and works real hard. We thought it would be an opportunity to find a place to be comfortable and contribute.”
At 290 pounds, Hayes is 20 pounds heavier than Okwara’s final collegiate listing and a whopping 30 more than spring Rush End incumbent Andrew Trumbetti, the latter of which Hayes is now expected to compete against – and rotate with – next fall.
“I do, I do,” said Gilmore when asked if he believed the pair would form a Rush End ‘tag team’ next fall. “Based on who we’re playing and what kind of offense. If it’s a power team you’ll probably see Jay Hayes more. If it’s a passing team you’ll see Andrew more. They’ll both start and play a lot. We want that competition.”
Gilmore noted that Hayes’ weight is of no issue assuming he continues to run fast and play with power. Hayes offered that he might get down to 285 but that change is “nothing” and that he enjoys the position more than playing inside.
“Defensive end is position where there’s more freedom,” Hayes said. “I feel comfortable out there.”
A SEASON ON THE SIDELINES
Hayes and classmates Justin Brent and Corey Holmes fashioned a Brian Kelly-era first last fall: uninjured sophomore redshirts that played as true freshmen.
In Hayes’ case, his 2014 field time was due to injury calamity along the defensive front – a cameo in Game 11 and 12 during a four-game November losing skid. After reading the tealeaves regarding his status on the 2015 defensive line, Hayes wanted that lost eligibility back.
“I actually went to (the staff),” said Hayes of his 2015 redshirt. “I asked because I wanted to develop; I felt my game wasn’t complete. When I get on the field, for a significant amount of time, I wanted to really be a difference-maker.”
Gilmore and Kelly were onboard, but it wasn’t something for which they could sign off immediately. In college football, the whole remains more important than a single part.
“The first thing is, we had to be in a position to know it would be good for the team,” said Gilmore of keeping Hayes on the sidelines. “You can’t just decide to redshirt a guy early in the year. But once we got going and felt like we had guys that could contribute I kept it in mind.
“He had to be prepared that if the situation changed, he’d have to play. But I wanted to give him that opportunity to have another year to be what he wants to be.”
“Being a DE gives me more flexibility to show some of the traits I have as a player,” said Hayes. “So dropping into coverage, and beating up tight ends. We just have power on both sides (opposite Isaac Rochell), which is real good.”
Those attributes are among the reasons Hayes knew his career arc would not be streamlined. Unlike Jarron Jones (clearly a nose tackle and not a defensive end) or Cole Luke (clearly a cornerback, not a safety), Hayes was never destined to start and finish in one spot.
“I knew I would change a lot because I’m a ‘Tweener’,” he said of his frame. “I take all the things I’ve learned from D-Tackle over to Rush End. It translates in terms of technique, footwork, and effort. No one should ever question your effort, that’s what I’m built on. That’s what the foundation of our defense is.”