Spring Q&A: Jesse Hayes

Recovered from an ankle injury that cost him most of last year's Big Ten season, redshirt sophomore Jesse Hayes has had an outstanding spring and is fighting for playing time as an outside linebacker in UW's 3-4 defense.

Talk about the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense. It appears like it's a move that fit you well.

Jesse Hayes: It's a better opportunity to showcase my athleticism as a stand-up, make some different plays and be in a different alignment than the 4-3 where I was down in a three-point stance. I can still utilize my athleticism, (but) now I have just a lot more space which is nice.

How did you improve your body heading into this spring knowing that you were going to have an opportunity to compete at either defensive end or outside linebacker?

Hayes: I am still kind of in that phase that I am trying to run with the LBs and things like that because it was short notice. It's only been (four) weeks since I've been playing LB, and one of those weeks was spring break. I think the biggest thing for me this summer is trimming down and getting on my run.

What has your first two seasons been like at Wisconsin? How have you improved?

Hayes: My first year I was pretty immature, thinking I was going to come in and run the table like any freshman would. That was a learning year for me. I was too small and I wasn't really big enough, so I needed that year. The next year I started to find my way on third down. I was starting on pass rush and was able to do that up until Illinois week when I broke my foot. It was a big setback for me and something I took pretty hard. This year I just started fresh, I am healthy and I am ready.

Did you try to get back for bowl prep to get some momentum?

Hayes: I didn't do much of anything with the team. I was still rehabbing my foot. I wasn't trying to rush into it because I didn't have a chance of playing in the Rose Bowl, and I felt like I had an opportunity in winter conditioning to showcase myself. I wasn't going to jump into straight into it and not heal my foot all the way.

What has it been like then going through spring practices and getting repetitions every day? What's been the big change from the first practice to where you are today?

Hayes: I would definitely say learning. It's a whole different world from putting your hand on the ground to standing up. Just learning all the different keys. You have to learn about coverage, which I was never really had or was concerned about and what the receivers are doing. It's a whole different world.

What were some of the other teaching points you had to grasp on to incorporate into your game to be an effective outside linebacker?

Hayes: I would definitely say recognizing keys. The first day I thought I could come out, run around and do the things. I think I have the athletic ability and the speed to do those things, but if you don't know where your keys are you are going to struggle. Throughout each day I have noticed my keys and things I am supposed to be looking at, I've gotten better and am playing faster every day.

You talked about getting a chance to play last year. How much did that benefit you with the experience and the game speed, even though it's not at the position you are playing at now?

Hayes: I think it helps just about everybody. It's a whole different world from when you are practicing to when you are actually out there on the field. It's a completely different game. With that you get that experience, you've been there before, you know how a game works, how to prepare for one and how to compete with older guys.

Who have you really latched on to among the linebackers to really get some knowledge as to how to play the position?

Hayes: From a physical standpoint and a guy who is the same age as me is Joe Schobert. He's a great player also, a lot of natural ability and I learn off of him a lot of things he does with the pass rush. He's been a big help teaching me all my keys and things.

You talk about needing to slim down a little bit. Where do you want to be weight wise by the start of next season to get yourself in the optimal condition to compete for playing time?

Hayes: I don't think I have a set weight, but once I feel I am conditioned and can do a whole practice without struggling or my endurance is down.

Talk about having a father as a defensive line coach in the NFL, a position you played in high school and a position that brought you here. What was that like for you growing up and how was that a blessing?

Hayes: I think a lot of people try to overanalyze it. When he comes home from work at 11 p.m., we weren't studying film or doing reps in the backyard. I was a high school kid and he was a father. The thing I loved is he wasn't telling me what I needed to do. He was just a father. He came to my games when he could and he told me small things.

Is it cool that you are playing at a school where he worked and was an assistant for a couple years?

Hayes: Yeah, no doubt. I was real young (when he worked at Wisconsin) and don't remember a whole lot, but just all the connections goes a long way. People come up to me all the time to tell me they knew my dad and that they remember me when I was real young. It is always nice to have those people that support you.

What are some of the goals you have going for in addition to adding weight and playing time?

Hayes: Right now I am in a position where I have an opportunity to play a lot this year. I feel like if I keep on working (and) lock down on my keys, I should be OK for the year.

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