He showed up for the Nittany Lions' spring game over the weekend decked out in an old-school Pittsburgh Steelers' jersey — No. 32, to be exact. The name Harris was stitched across the back, referring, of course, to Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris.
Harris, you may recall, was a standout fullback at Penn State before beginning his long pro career in the early 1970s.
Hayes, meanwhile, is just about to start his college career. He'll arrive for summer school June 27. To get a jump on things, position coach Ron Vanderlinden told Hayes to report to the equipment room in Beaver Stadium before the Blue-White game so he could be measured for equipment.
The easiest way to get there was through a shortcut in PSU's All-Sports Museum. Hayes entered the building and was met by a security guard.
I told him I had to go get measured, Hayes explained. He says, 'No problem. You going to play here next year?' I said yes, so he starts talking to me about how he's glad I'm coming and he hopes I'll be able to contribute and have success.
The excitement was just beginning. As they made their way into the Museum, they had to round a corner.
I turn, Hayes recalled, and Franco Harris walks up to me. He shakes my hand. I'm thinking, is it him? Is it really him?
It was really him, all right. Harris was one of dozens of former players in town for the Blue-White game.
The security guard goes, 'Franco, this is Jerome Hayes,' Hayes continued. And Franco says, 'I've heard some things about you. I've read about you.' It was crazy.
So crazy Hayes did not ask to get his jersey autographed by the legend. In fact, he didn't say much of anything.
I was in shock, he admitted. I wasn't even thinking straight. But he said he was happy I decided to make Penn State my school, he thought I made a good choice.
It's a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life. I'm wearing his jersey, and he comes up to me and says, 'You know what, that's a great jersey.'
For Jerome Hayes, more so now than before.