Coveted LB recruit Daelin Hayes commits to Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The path to Notre Dame for Daelin Hayes wasn’t always clear.

His recruitment included a commitment to USC, a move from the Detroit area to California, a return to Michigan, a parting of ways with the Trojans and official visits to Ohio State and Michigan State. But on Thursday, Hayes ended his recruitment with a commitment to the program that extended him a scholarship offer nearly 18 months ago.

Hayes, a five-star outside linebacker according to Rivals, announced his verbal commitment to Notre Dame with a video from Bleacher Report.

The video showed Hayes running through downtown Detroit to the destination of his choice. It ended with him stopping in front of a computer-generated billboard for Notre Dame.

“God, country, Notre Dame," Hayes said in the video. "Go Irish."

Hayes filmed the footage for the video last week before settling on his decision. He said he knew Notre Dame would be his choice after a discussion with Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith last week.

“You could say that was my 'aha' moment,” Hayes said Thursday. “He said, 'Notre Dame sets you up for life.' I was taking football out of the equation and looking at which school would best set me up as far as relationships, alumni base and prestige of the degree. Notre Dame was the obvious choice."

The Irish appeared to be the early favorite for Hayes before he committed to USC in July of 2014. Notre Dame reemerged as a major contender for Hayes this fall after visits to South Bend in September and October sandwiched his separation from USC amidst the firing of head coach Steve Sarkisian. Notre Dame took advantage of the opportunity by reminding Hayes why he spoke so highly of the school before his junior year.

And Hayes was hard for the Irish to forget. The 6-foot-3, 239-pound senior at Ann Arbor (Mich.) Skyline High has exhibited top-notch athleticism throughout his high school career. His combination of size and speed has recruiting analysts forecasting him as an elite linebacker or defensive end prospect.

Notre Dame sent head coach Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, who recruits in Michigan for the Irish, for an in-home visit with Hayes on Monday.

The coaching staff has pointed to Smith as a model for Hayes. The two have kept in touch throughout the recruiting process, and Hayes said Smith, who was named the nation’s top linebacker with the Butkus Award earlier this week, played a significant role in his decision.

“It was huge throughout this process finding the (truth) and schools being able to show me how they would use me. Notre Dame definitely has the strongest track record with Jaylon being a Butkus Award winner,” Hayes said. “He and I have a very similar playing style. With how coach VanGorder plans to use me, I had all the confidence in the world that they would put me in the best position."

That position could be multiple. With Notre Dame’s recent struggles with recruiting defensive ends, it’s easy to see his path ending there.

"Coach VanGorder said I was going to be playing linebacker and rushing on third down especially in some speed packages,” Hayes said. “The biggest thing that he stressed to me was that he wasn't putting a straight position on me. He was going to let me learn and play my most natural position and grow into the position that I'll play in the three to four years that I'll play for Notre Dame. That way I can come in and be very versatile.”

Hayes signed a financial aid agreement on Thursday that he will give to Notre Dame when he arrives on campus Friday for another recruiting visit. The agreement is not binding to Hayes, but it secures his Notre Dame scholarship. Hayes graduated in late November and plans to enroll in South Bend for the spring semester when classes start Jan. 12.

The high school career for Hayes — which has been filled with twists and turns — is finally coming to a close. The only thing clouding his future is a history of shoulder issues that cut his sophomore and senior seasons short.

A left shoulder injury ended his sophomore season at Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s in the first game. For his junior season, Hayes moved to California with his mother following his USC commitment, but that season ended early when he was forced to return to Michigan as a result of a custody battle between his parents. Back in Michigan for his senior year, Hayes suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder in the third game of the season.

Hayes had surgery to repair the labrum last month and said he’s on schedule to be ready to participate in spring practice. With a clean bill of health, Hayes could have the highest ceiling of anyone in Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class.

“From an upside standpoint, Daelin Hayes has an absolute ton of it,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “He's a guy who can grow into a fantastic edge rusher. That's a position where Notre Dame has not really had a consistent difference-maker. He could be a bona fide pass rusher for several years at Notre Dame.

“Unfortunately, he's battled injuries his entire high school career. He's still growing into his frame. But when you see him in a camp setting, he's got big-time athleticism among some of the nation's best at some of the top events. I just hope for him that he's able to stay healthy in South Bend. If he's able to do that, I really think he's going to be a great player for the Irish.”

CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming has given Hayes a rating of four-plus stars with the potential to be a five-star player.

"He's a big-time player,” Lemming said. “He's got great size. He can run. It's just a matter of those shoulder problems.”

Rivals ranks Hayes as the No. 6 outside linebacker and No. 21 regardless of position in the 2016 class. 247Sports slates him as a four-star recruit, the No. 10 outside linebacker and No. 104 overall.

The addition of Hayes gives the Irish 19 verbal commitments in the 2016 class. He joins Jamir Jones at the linebacker position, but both could end up at defensive end.

On Monday, Rivals ranked Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class No. 18 in the country, and 247Sports slated the Irish at No. 17. Now the websites peg Notre Dame at No. 8 and No. 12, respectively.

Hayes also gives Notre Dame three commitments from Michigan in the 2016 class with defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Adetokunbo Ogundeji. The Irish have only signed three players — kicker Kyle Brindza (2011), offensive lineman Steve Elmer (2013) and defensive end Jhonny Williams (2014) — in head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame.

The renewed emphasis in Michigan has been led by Gilmore, who has family ties and connections from multiple coaching stints in the state.

“That's an excellent job. You have to give him credit,” Lemming said of Gilmore. “They got Steve Elmer and that's about it in the last several years. Getting two (Hayes and Kareem) of the top three guys in the state is fantastic."

Notre Dame delivered a consistent message and it struck a chord with Hayes. It won’t have to wait long to start molding him into a college football player.

“Obviously with my injuries, I was just understanding how fragile of a game this is and how quickly it can be taken away,” Hayes said. “When I was making my decision, it was, 'What if football doesn't work out? What do I have to fall back on?' I felt Notre Dame was the best place." | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Four star LB Daelin Hayes dashes through Detroit to pick his school, 'Dark Knight' Style

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 10, 2015

Daelin Hayes on the sideline before the Notre Dame-Texas football game on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)