As Notre Dame scoured the country for recruits as they prepared for life after Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, New York’s Jay Hayes felt like the comfort food that gets you through a cold and rainy day. The Brooklyn defensive lineman spent a lot of time as an Irish commitment, working his hardest to build a recruiting class, even as the scheme and pitch changed.
Now on campus after a commitment that came in November of his junior year, Hayes has an opportunity to fight for playing time on a defensive line that will likely use him differently than the one he committed to playing on.
Let’s take a closer look at Jay Hayes.
6'4" 275 lbs.
Hayes checked in as a four-star, Top 250 recruit out of Brooklyn’s Poly Prep. But his offer list is one of the more impressive in the recruiting class, especially considering he was essentially off the market 15 months before Signing Day. Hayes had offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon and USC.
On Signing Day, Brian Kelly talked about Hayes -- both the player on the field and the young man off of it. And it’s easy to see why he’s an early candidate to become a fan favorite.
“One thing I’ll say about Jay is that he has been probably one of our best recruiters in a sense from day one,” Kelly said. “He’s talked about Notre Dame and why you make a decision to come to Notre Dame. I remember one of his quotes when I was with him was, ‘Coach, some of these guys don’t get it. They don’t really understand why you would come to Notre Dame.’
“Having said that, he’s a heck of a football player. He’s 6'4", long arms, about 275 pounds. He’s got multi‑position capabilities. He can play inside, he can play outside. Really like the way he plays the game, ferocious attacking player.”
Not to bring out the RKG tag, but it certainly applies here.
One of the more interesting days of August will be the release of a new roster with updated heights and weights. (And we can finally stop searching social media for freshman jersey number hints.) That will likely be the biggest indicator as to where Hayes will begin his career and what trajectory it’ll begin on. If Hayes is indeed 6-4, and steps onto campus at 275, you’ve got to believe he’ll be a defensive tackle in Brian VanGorder’s scheme, not a defensive end.
Those kind of bodies become handy in college football, and if we’re to believe Kelly’s critique of Hayes’ ability -- and I’ve heard similar good things throughout the summer -- then there’s a chance that Hayes could see the field in 2014, though a redshirt would be better for program stability.
It’s worth pointing out that Notre Dame’s last Brooklyn-based recruit was Ishaq Williams. The five-star prospect was very raw entering college football, and still is as a senior in his final season of eligibility. Kelly talked about the coaching Hayes has received at a high school level, complimenting Poly Prep head coach Dino Mangiero -- a former NFL defensive lineman -- on his coaching techniques, a nice jump start for Hayes that Williams didn’t have.
Hayes’ 2014 season is likely going to be dictated by the health and productivity of guys like Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann, veterans who will get the first crack at supplying depth on the interior of the defensive line. In a perfect world, Hayes can spend the season learning the system and getting bigger and stronger.
But with depth a question mark behind Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, Hayes could be called into action sooner than later. And while it’s hard to learn too much from a YouTube highlight reel, Hayes does some things on the football field that are freakishly good. Watch him block an extra point, steam-rolling his blocker. Get upfield and deflect a pass that turns into a defensive touchdown. He’s a blocker on punt return and an offensive lineman collecting pancakes. All signs that the Irish inked a very productive athlete in a really big body.
The transition from New York high school football to Notre Dame is a pretty rude awakening. But Hayes has a good head on his shoulders -- not to mention the boulder-sized chip needed to be a great football player -- and it’ll be fun to see him evolve. He could be the type of profile prospect that does a serviceable job throughout his career. Or he’s an early target that the Irish coaching staff unearthed early.
If Hayes is the latter, he’s a much needed building block in the future.
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