Hayden Clegg may be known on the roster as a defensive end, but he possesses a wider variety of skills - and a desire to help the team in any way possible.
Those characteristics have made Clegg a valuable asset for the injury-plagued Utes in 2016. He’s spent most of his time at Utah making plays on special teams, but made an appearance against UCLA as a fullback on offense and then linebacker against Washington. Clegg has enjoyed his chameleon role for the Utes in his senior season, and looks forward to other opportunities that may arise to continue learning and growing.
“I’m having fun,” Clegg said with a big smile. “I mean, right now we are doing a lot of different things and I’m being able to help the team in a lot of different ways. I’m really enjoying it.”
Clegg says he has always had an interest in Utah, even when he was younger and was happy for the opportunity to walk on in 2013.
“I have a lot of family that lives out here and I’ve always loved the University of Utah so I just wanted to come out here and experience it,” he said. “Kalani [Sitake] was originally the one I had talked to, to come out here and he was awesome. I’ve just loved it ever since I got here with my teammates.”
According to Clegg, the brotherhood he shares with his teammates and the sense that no one is above anyone else makes Utah a special place. “It’s a huge deal,” Clegg said. “It’s a big reason why a lot of guys choose the University of Utah is because of the family atmosphere. The thing is it really is like a family here.”
“New freshman that get brought in here- I’m a senior- It seems like I don’t know because I haven’t been at any other programs but when a freshman comes in the seniors push them to the side. Like the seniors are about their business and worried about their senior year and worried about moving on with their lives but here we really accept them with open arms,” Clegg continued. “We want to get to know every single person and I love it. That’s why I’ve chosen to spend my entire time here because I love the family atmosphere and I love my teammates. I love the camaraderie that I have and the relationships I’ve built will last me for a lifetime so it’s definitely a big draw for a lot of recruits that come here.”
It’s that family feeling that Clegg says led to the best advice he has ever received - advice that the coaches have implied to the players rather than telling them outright. “The team is more important than you. I think that applies to a lot of different things in life,” he said. “You just forget about yourself and work as hard as you can. Everyone has to work and do that role. You’re going to succeed because when other people succeed they help lift you up as well.”
Aside from the family atmosphere that has been instilled, what makes Utah so successful is the emphasis put on special teams. It’s something Clegg regularly looks for in other teams as he’s watching film. “Here, Coach Whitt makes special teams kind of the central part of who we are at the University of Utah,” he said. “Whenever I watch any other team play - the way I determine a good team - is that I look at their special teams. If their special teams is trying hard and I can see that they are well coached, I know that’s going to be a good football team because if they care enough to pride themselves on special teams, they are going to care enough on offense and defense.”
For Clegg, being a part of the special teams unit at Utah is a badge of honor and something he talks about proudly. “For me personally, playing special teams, I take it really as a privilege,” he said. “I take pride on being on special teams. I do my best every single rep because that is my opportunity to help the team and because it is such an integral part of University of Utah football. It really makes me feel like I’m helping out.”
That determined attitude is what has helped Clegg make the transition playing other positions on the team aside from what he is used to. “I’ve had an opportunity to get in a little work at fullback on offense in certain packages, and that has been a lot of fun to be able to help out there because I’ve never played offense in my entire college career,” Clegg said. “On defense, with some of the injuries we have at linebacker and D-line I’m getting opportunities at both of those positions in practice at defensive end and linebacker. It’s been fun to be able to play and learn a little bit more.”
Although Clegg has gotten a taste for offense, he says his heart is still very much on defense. “I’m defense all the way. I just love the physicality of it,” he said. “Not that offense isn’t physical, it’s just that offense is much more of a premeditated chaos. Much more of a controlled type, whereas defense is much more of a ‘let it loose,’ fly around and be violent. I love that about defense just being able to fly and hit people.”
Clegg’s favorite memory of flying around and hitting people actually came at practice two years ago under some very miserable conditions, no less. “I can’t remember who we were playing at the time. It was back when Kalani Sitake was the defensive coordinator and defense was outside for a nighttime practice later on in the year and it was probably the coldest that I’ve felt in my entire life,” he said. “For some reason that day I decided not to wear an undershirt under my pads and my entire body was purple but everyone was yelling and screaming and having a great time. Although it was miserable, it made it a great time and it’s definitely been a memory that has lasted for me.”
What Clegg hopes will be his lasting impression on the team is that of a guy who was willing to go above and beyond for his brothers whether he is suited up or cheering from the sidelines as an alumnus. “I want it to be an impression to where guys know that no matter what they can come to me and ask for anything,” he said. “That I am willing to put myself on the line for them. I am willing to do anything for any of my teammates or anybody that is part of the Utah football family. I kind of want that to be my lasting impression that I’m always one of them, I am always here to help and do whatever I can.”