Ryan Hayes doesn’t have much time to think about what’s to come over the next few years.
Fall is where Hayes, a four-star offensive tackle from Traverse City, Mich., shines now and will in the future. He’s mostly a tight end at West High School. His potential as an offensive lineman at the college level is what’s turned Hayes into a top regional target.
Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame make up the primary contenders. Cal, Kentucky, Minnesota, Northwestern, TCU, Vanderbilt and Virginia have also offered.
But Hayes has a lot more to do than play football and consider his recruitment. He stars on the West High basketball team and is an ace pitcher on the baseball team. Hayes is a true multi-sport athlete in an era of specialization.
“You look at almost every elite athlete and they played two if not three sports,” said Tim Wooer, head football coach at Traverse City West. “It helps on the competitive end. You compete every day for nine or 10 months out of the year. Basketball helps him with his footwork, explosiveness, his lateral agility and burst. Baseball, I don’t know if there’s a real close carryover from baseball to football with him being a pitcher. But you just want kids to enjoy high school and have the opportunity to compete on a daily basis.”
Spreading around his sporting interest is what makes Hayes equal parts intriguing and an unknown.
Most college programs have pegged the 6-foot-7, 250-pound prospect as a future offensive tackle. Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand offered Hayes shortly after National Signing Day, making him a top target in the Class of 2018.
Yet Hayes hasn’t ever fully focused on the position.
Not only does he play three sports, Hayes is generally used as a tight end by Wooer at the high school level.
Wooer views Hayes as a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, likening his star player to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski at a lower level. It’d be almost senseless to anchor Hayes’ athleticism to the end of the offensive line.
“I think at our level he’s a little bit like a Gronkowski,” Wooer said. “We’re able to get some matchups, move him around on the field, split him out. There’s not a defensive back that can cover him vertically just because of his skill set. Not only is he tall but he jumps well and can high point the ball extremely well. That creates coverage matchups. Obviously, he’s gonna be a good blocker in your power game.”
After Hayes enrolls in college, however, it will likely be a different story.
Wooer sees Hayes on a similar path to another West High grad: Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Jake Fisher. Back in high school, Fisher played tight end as well. He transitioned to offensive line in college, was an All-American at Oregon and went on to be a second round pick in the NFL Draft.
“Very similar athletes,” Wooer said. “Ryan’s probably a little bit ahead of where Jake was earlier in his career. Jake had a fabulous senior year. So he’s got a little ways to go there in terms of getting to that level. At least at the high school level. He’s got a good frame, he’s athletic, he’s intelligent. He’s got a 3.73 (GPA), A student. His ceiling is very high, especially when he decides at some point to focus on one sport.”
Last week Hayes spent spring break visiting Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame again. One of those three programs is likely to land his commitment this summer.
Whichever Midwest power wins out will land a prospect high on upside but with work to do in moving to the offensive line. Hayes will have a steeper learning curve when it’s time to adapt to a highly technical position.
“He’s never played it,” Wooer said. “He’s gonna have to learn how to pass pro and he’s gonna have to continue to work on good pad level. I think he’s got good pad level. He’s got good length and uses his hands well. He’s just gotta get in the weight room and understand different concepts of playing on the inside versus playing as an athlete.”