Posse's Chris Hayes still charging hard

CHRIS HAYES, a mainstay on Washington State's fabled Palouse Posse defense, is diving into WSU's Seattle Week the same way he played football: Fast and furious. The one-time New York Jet and New England Patriot is in the Emerald City for the Cougar-Beaver game on Saturday night, but he plans to squeeze every minute out of the clock until then.

Tonight (Friday) he and former Cougar running back Derek Sparks are organizing a "Crimson Carpet Cougar Takeover" of Club Sur, a popular Seattle night spot. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the $20 cover charge will be donated to educational programs Hayes and Sparks work with.

On Saturday, the pair will join with former WSU football and basketball player Mike Bush to host a free pre-game rally for Cougar fans at the CenturyLink Field Event Center. It gets underway at 4:30.

"I'm excited about seeing a lot of faces I haven't seen in awhile," says Hayes, who lives in his native southern California with his wife and three sons -- ages 6 to 16 -- and pulls double duty as an account executive with GMAC Insurance and CEO of his own budding company.

Nearly a decade into his retirement from the NFL, and closing in on his 40th birthday, Hayes is still as hard-charging as ever.

His company, called "My Game Clip," assists athletes and coaches in reaching their potential in sports but also in broader life. In addition to physical training, money management and nutrition are among the areas of focus.

Among the stable of folks who work as consultants with the firm are former WSU and NFL players Cory Withrow and Rickey Reynolds.

"We ran the race and now it's time to give back and share," Hayes says.

Despite all the directions he's going, Hayes still makes time to follow the Cougars, and says living in the Los Angeles area can be annoying.

"Do you know how hard it is to live out here among UCLA and USC fans?" he asks. "I've got to hear this USC (crap) all day long, seven days a week."

THE PASSION THAT made him a Cougar standout from 1992-95 never has waned. Though it's smoother around the edges these days.

He was so intense in college, Hayes says, that fellow Cougar linebacking great James Darling told him in 2001, when they were teammates with the Jets, that he couldn't stand to be around him at WSU.

At 6-feet-tall and 213 pounds, Hayes said had to have fire in his eyes to survive in a game ruled by big bodies.

While Sparks, a friend since their teen years, was a phenom, "I just played with reckless abandon," says Hayes, who was an outside linebacker at WSU and safety in the NFL.

Under Mike Price, the Cougars had an affinity for smaller, quicker linebackers.

"We were that team in the Pac-10 that didn't have prototypical linebackers," Hayes said. "Our whole mantra was, ‘Speed kills.' "

And attitude.

The Cougar defense of that era fielded some of the swiftest and head-strong linebackers in school history. Besides Hayes and Darling, there was Anthony McClanahan, Ron Childs and 1994 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Mark Fields.

"We just had fun at linebacker," Hayes said. "A lot of credit goes to Coach (Bill) Doba and Coach (Jim) Zeches. They allowed us to be ourselves."

For Hayes, that meant going 100 miles an hour. He wasn't "a killer" so much as he was a little crazy, he says.

Steve Gleason, who followed Hayes at WSU, not only continued the small-yet-fearless tradition but "shattered it" with his hellbent way, says Hayes.

Gleason was a linchpin on the 1998 Cougar Rose Bowl team and later played seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

HAYES SAYS HE cherishes the time he spent in Pullman. One of the most powerful memories, of course, was his junior year of 1994, when the Palouse Posse arguably was the No. 1 defense in the nation.

The Cougars finished 8-4 that season. In his new book, 596 Switch, Ryan Leaf says if the offense had been just average the Cougars would have contended for the national title.

Leaf talks at some length in the book about Hayes and his outstanding character.

In 1995, as a second-year freshman, Leaf was given a chance to play meaningful minutes in the third-to-last game of the season, against Cal. His time behind center wasn't welcomed by the starting quarterback, Chad Davis.

"After my first series, Chris knew I was unsettled and he came up to me on the sidelines and was very encouraging, really bolstering my confidence," Leaf wrote. "I'm not sure how it transpired, because I was back on the field when it happened, but at some point during the game Davis confronted Chris about being so supportive to me. The two of them got into an argument right there on the sidelines. That was pretty much the end for Chad. He didn't take a snap the final two games of the season and eventually transferred to a Division I-AA school."

Leaf added, "For Chris, it was just another case of being a good leader and stand-up guy. Those are the types of individuals -- regardless of race, color or religion -- you want to go into battle with on Saturdays because you know your back is covered."

HAYES PLAYED SIX seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Jets, and won a Super Bowl ring with the Packers as a little-used rookie.

He was cut four times by various teams that first season -- including Green Bay -- before the Packers brought him back. It was a great lesson in perseverance, he says. And it's a lesson, among many, he wants to share with young athletes through his young company.

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