A freshman season with a redshirt burned in November. A sophomore year with a redshirt earned begrudgingly.
Entering his third season in the program, Jay Hayes has a chance to erase any conversation about “will-he-play-or-won’t-he?” Because Hayes is a key piece of the puzzle for the Irish on the defensive front.
Spring practice saw Hayes move to the forefront, a surprise contender for a starting job at weakside defensive end. Recruited (and built) like a defensive tackle, Hayes isn’t your prototype edge player. But he’s one of the big reasons Brian Kelly is optimistic that his defensive is going to take a step forward in Brian VanGorder’s third season.
6’3″, 285 lbs.
Junior, No. 93, DE
A four-star, Top 250 prospect. Hayes was one of New York’s top recruits, with offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon and USC.
With tweener size, Hayes projection seemed somewhere between defensive end and defensive tackle, with many projecting a career at three-technique.
Freshman Season (2014): Saw action in the season’s final three games, taking off his redshirt and playing against Louisville, USC and LSU. Suffered an ankle injury against USC, but did manage to return for the bowl victory against LSU.
Sophomore Season (2015): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
Didn’t see the redshirt coming. (Maybe Hayes didn’t either?)
Hayes will be one of Keith Gilmore’s test cases. The veteran defensive line coach was brought in to get the next wave of players ready along the defensive line, and Hayes certainly fits in that first tier.
At this point, you can’t feel 100-percent positive about Day or Jones until you see them running and fully healthy in fall camp. (That’s the pessimist that doesn’t naturally come out in me.) So if there’s any issue with either of those two, you’ve got to assume that Hayes is going to be the beneficiary—ready or not.
Notre Dame could use a disruptive force along the defensive line, especially with a pass rush all but missing in action last season. Is Hayes that player? I don’t get the feeling he is, though it’s certainly not a prerequisite for a defensive tackle.
Either way, Hayes has the makings of a good one. We’ll find out how good come September.
If Hayes is a starter on the defensive line, he’s on a trajectory that Brian Kelly felt fairly confident about when he decided to put Hayes on the field late in the season as a freshman. Kelly referenced the decisions to leave early by both Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt when putting Hayes into action, noting that great defensive linemen don’t stick around for five seasons.
If Hayes is able to work his way into that echelon of lineman, the Irish will be very happy. Because with just three games played and a two career tackles to his name through two seasons, he didn’t exactly sprint out of the gates.
Kelly made reference to Hayes a few times this summer as a guy flying under the radar. That feels like a genuine prediction when you consider his comments from 2014 and his depth chart move last spring.
Is Hayes a dominant college player? Hard to tell without seeing him get a chance. But that his head coach believes big things are coming is a good sign.
When Notre Dame lines up on defense against Texas, expect to see Hayes opposite Isaac Rochell at defensive end. Notre Dame’s front four will be among the largest in the country if that happens—two 290-pound defensive ends and two 300-plus pounders in the trenches.
That said, if Hayes is going to stick at end, he might spend the summer slimming down. Shedding 10 pounds and playing closer to 275 might give him an extra half-step, something that could come in handy when coming off the edge.
But even without a weight loss, Hayes is going to have a productive season. If healthy, I’ve got him penciled in for double-digit starts, approaching ten TFLs, and the second most tackles on the defensive line.
2016’s Irish A-to-Z