ALCOA, Tenn. — Robert Gillespie gave Chase Hayden a pleasant surprise recently.
Tennessee's recruiting coordinator and running backs coach paired up with offensive line coach Don Mahoney to visit Hayden at St. George's Independent School in Collierville to be the first coaches to visit Hayden for the evaluation period. Hayden returned the favor over the weekend, making the trek to Knoxville for the Vols' 2016 Orange and White Game to take in the festivities.
The No. 3-ranked running back in the Volunteer State's 2017 class saw a familiar scene in Neyland Stadium as he entertains offers from schools like Arkansas, Michigan, South Carolina and Tennessee, among others.
"The visit went pretty well," Hayden told InsideTennessee. "My favorite part was probably the one-on-one's, the receiver and cornerback one-on-one's. I've been up there so many times, so I feel like I've seen a lot. Nothing was different really."
The pitch to Hayden from Gillespie, Mahoney and coach Butch Jones revolves around an opportunity to potentially replace redshirt junior Alvin Kamara, who could leave for the NFL draft after the 2016 season. Kamara does a little bit of everything for Tennessee, including rushing, catching passes and returning punts. The Vols see Hayden as a player who can fill a similar role moving forward.
"Really they just (talk about) the opportunity," Hayden said. "They're losing a lot of running backs probably with Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd. It's an opportunity to come in and compete. They talk about using me in different ways. I may be playing the slot some, too."
Tennessee isn't the only program that sees Hayden as a versatile offensive weapon with a high ceiling. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound rising senior spoke with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on Sunday and hears from Arkansas, Oklahoma State and South Carolina consistently. Hayden plans to visit the Fayetteville this week and also wants to see Arizona and Michigan this summer.
With so many big-name programs competed for Hayden's talents, developing a good relationship is key as the No. 26-ranked running back in the South Region prepares to make a decision. Robert Gillespie has already begun that process, and the bond the two share already should help the Vols as Tennessee continue to court the Collierville native.
"He asks me about life and like how I'm doing outside of football, grades and stuff like that, friends and stuff like that," Hayden told InsideTennessee. "We have a good relationship."