Usually when college players bounce around the way Adam Hayward did, it's because the player did something wrong. He failed to crack the books. He became involved in something unsavory off the field. Or he just didn't have the commitment to be a college football player.
Hayward was none of those things, yet his career found him bouncing around as if he was made of rubber. Five different uniform numbers. Six different positions. Two different schools.
What in the world happened? Maybe it's easier if he tells you.
"Out of high school, I went to Colorado State on a full-ride scholarship, and as soon as I got there they put me at safety," Hayward said. "I had never played it before. So I learned the position and played a little my freshman year. I ended up mostly on special teams and making plays on special teams.
"Then my sophomore year, I became the starter and was playing at safety. It was still a learning process, learning how to play safety. Towards the end, they switched me to running back. That was okay. It got me comfortable carrying the ball again, and they really wanted to use my speed. When I was going through that, it was difficult to change positions.
"Then I went through a family problem and I had to deal with that, and that took my focus away from football."
Hayward's mother died of cancer on Aug. 4, 2004. Hayward played one game that year — at flanker, no less — before leaving the Rams.
Up to that point, Hayward had played safety, running back and flanker at CSU, and worn Nos. 39, 3, 25 and 2.
Hayward wasn't even sure, as he returned home to Westminster, Calif., that fall if he would ever play football again.
But football was just too much of a lure to ignore.
"After I spent a year away from football, I decided I wanted to play again and that's what brought me to Portland State," Hayward said. "They gave me an opportunity to play again."
The Vikings, a Division I-AA program based in Portland, Ore., put Hayward back on the field in 2005 with a new position — rushing end — and a new number — 20.
"It was much harder sitting out and watching everyone play," Hayward said of 2004. "It's that feeling you get from playing football and being around the people you care about. Once I got back into it I just gave it my all. It just became easy after that."
In 2006 PSU put Hayward at strong side linebacker and in a new number — 5. Hayward finally fulfilled the potential the Rams certainly had for him when they recruited him out of Marina High School. He led the Vikings with 104 tackles, 9 ½ sacks and 16 ½ tackles for loss. He also forced three fumbles and batted down seven passes.
Hayward said he paid no mind to the NFL until late in the season.
"I figured if somebody really likes me, they'll take me and take a chance," Hayward said.
Tampa became that team, as the Bucs selected him in the sixth round. Gruden anticipates Hayward to be a player that can work on both sides of the second line of the defense — eventually. He might even turn Hayward's 4.4 speed loose in special situations.
"I think there will be some situations where he might be standing up as a defensive end rushing the passer, much like some of the third-down specialists do," Gruden said.
Now Hayward is studying alongside future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, who actually made fun of Hayward during the rookie's One Buc Place visit in April because he wore a suit. Brooks' posters lined Hayward walls in college, and he said he modeled his play after the weak side linebacker.
"He was making a joke because I was really suited up," Hayward said. "He was like, ‘Man, you're serious. You came out here ready to go.' It was funny to hear Derrick Brooks crack a joke on me."
Oh, and his jersey number? That would be No. 57. That's seven — if you're keeping track.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.