Full Speed Ahead

Completely over his knee issues, Hayes looks to wrap up his Nittany Lion career in style.

Defensive end Jerome Hayes was held in check for much of Penn State's non-conference schedule at the beginning of this season. But it wasn't by opponents.

Recovering from a second torn anterior cruciate ligament tear -- this time in his left knee -- Hayes' role was limited by defensive line coach Larry Johnson along with head coach Joe Paterno.

Things have changed for the fifth-year senior. Hayes has started three of the last five Nittany Lion games, including back-to-back starts against Minnesota and Michigan.

“From Day One, Coach Johnson told me he wasn't gonna put me out there on the field if he didn't feel I was 100 percent,” Hayes said. “For the first couple of weeks of the season he clearly saw that I wasn't at full strength or at full speed and something wasn't right. So he kind of just brought me along more slowly than with the first injury and I feel like it's paid off.”

Hayes admitted it took patience on his part but that he learned never to question Johnson. He recognizes the benefits he has reaped from the early season rest.

“I'm able to get through practices without any pain and taking off the ball a lot quicker,” Hayes said. “I'm a fifth-year senior. Knowing this is my last shot, I wanted to go out right away and prove to the world that my knees were OK. “

Hayes sustained the second ACL injury early last season, so he had plenty of time to heal before the 2009 campaign rolled around. He said the biggest adjustment this year was regaining his explosiveness.

But that is back now. In fact, last Saturday against Michigan, the player who came to Penn State as a running back and then switched to linebacker before eventually settling at defensive end added a new position to his repertoire.

Hayes was back deep for kickoff returns. While not intended to be a returner -- his job was to block for Chaz Powell -- he did field one kick and brought it back 20 yards.

“It's just something that Coach [Bill[ Kenney was looking to get Chaz the ball easily,” Hayes said. “He's a big-play guy for us. They kinda just put me as an up-back back there to be more of a fullback.”


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