Football progress takes center stage at Notre Dame for Jay Hayes

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In his rare free time, Jay Hayes is trying to be Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, sort of.

In inflection, in mannerisms, in speech cadence, in vocabulary choice.

“I’m one of the guys in the locker room that’s always doing the jokes and stuff — impersonations,” the junior defensive lineman from Brooklyn, N.Y. puffed.

In fact, Hayes and quarterback Malik Zaire are so proficient at capturing and embellishing the personalities of teammates and coaches, the organizers of ND football’s year-end awards show last December included a hilarious video of the two putting words into others’ mouths, dubbing over game/sideline footage from last season.

“They actually had me doing (Kelly) on the film, but he took it out,” Hayes said. “He’s the boss.

“It’s not that good. When I do the coach Kelly, I want it to be the best ever. I’m working on it, though. In the fall, I got you.”

The more pressing development is who will Jay Hayes — the football player — be, come fall?

He remains more promising than productive, having sat all but three games of his freshman season with the intention of redshirting, but he was pressed into action late in 2014 when injuries ravaged the depth chart on the interior of the defensive line.

Hayes recorded two tackles during his late-season cameos as an active backup.

Then last season, he got back the year he burned in 2014, sitting and learning and trying not to ferment.

“I went to them (the coaching staff) and asked them,” he said of the redshirt year in 2015, which leaves him with three years of eligibility remaining. “I wanted to develop. I felt like my game wasn’t as complete. When I get on the field for a really significant amount of time, I want to really be a difference-maker.”

That’s still the expectations of his coaches, as well as it was for the programs that couldn’t lure the former four-star Brooklyn Poly Prep prospect — Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Penn State and USC among them.

But now the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder is doing it at a different position, sliding from defensive tackle to rush end this spring.

“I think (Andrew) Trumbetti tweaked his ankle,” Hayes said of ND’s first few spring workouts. “I filled in at defensive end, because I knew the playbook. I did it for two days, and it looked natural on film when the coaches saw it.”

And so they’ve left him there, at rush end — one of the positions on the entire team that has the least defined pecking order through the 12 spring practices and also the one with the greatest need for a surprise or two to emerge.

Trumbetti, a 6-4, 260-pound junior remains the front-runner in the short term. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said Trumbetti is the quickest among the candidates trying to fill the vacancy left by graduating Romeo Okwara, the team’s sack leader (with 8) in 2015. But Trumbetti needs to establish effective pass-rush moves to complement his speed.

Also in the mix with Jay Hayes are 6-5, 278-pound junior Grant Blankenship, who’s moved over from the big end position to boost the numbers at rush end, and high-ceiling freshman Daelin Hayes, a 6-4, 257-pounder whose contact reps are severely limited this spring because of offseason shoulder surgery.

“He has all the physical traits it takes to be a special player,” Gilmore said of the former five-star prospect from Ann Arbor, Mich. “He’s in the (play) book. He’s learning the defense as best he can. I think it’s going to be a bright future for him. If he can be healthy and come around, he can be a help to us.”

“He’s like a little brother to me,” Jay Hayes said of Daelin. “I always take care of him. I teach him the position even though I’m still learning it. I try to tell him the mistakes I’ve made, and I’m honest with Daelin. I don’t want to see him make the same mistakes I’ve made, because he’s a real talented guy.”

Among Hayes’ mistakes was letting his frustrations boil over last September and onto Twitter for all the world to see.

Hayes quickly deleted the tweets, but the two he sent out read: “When a coach stops coaching you..that’s when you jus (sic) gotta to move on,” followed by, “Gotta get this natty and I’m out.”

Kelly essentially suspended Hayes from the active roster for the UMass game on Sept. 26, even though he was building toward a redshirt year anyway.

“Patience is always something that I struggled with as a kid,” Hayes said. “My mom always told me, ‘Be patient, be patient. Patience is a virtue.’ And I’m like, ‘Whatever, Mom. Whatever.'

“I really learned it when I got to college, learned about patience, waiting your turn and it takes time. Control what I can control. Once I got that through my head, I did everything I could to transform, to enhance my game in all aspects.”

Ideally, Gilmore would like to see both Hayeses and Trumbetti emerge and form a formidable rotation.

“That was my intent last year,” Gilmore said of using waves of linemen rather than leaning so heavily on the starters, “But as you get into the thick of things, you just go with the flow of the game and where your heart feels, who’s going to win for you at that point.”

For the first time in his career, Jay Hayes has shown consistent flashes this spring of someone who can do just that.

“I’m just really working my craft here,” he said, “dedicated whatever I can to my game, to enhance my game, to be the best player I can be.”


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame freshman Khalid Kareem (53) and junior Jay Hayes (93) battle during a recent practice at ND's Loftus Center. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)