A new balancing act for Notre Dame DE Jay Hayes

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — His new ’do screams party. His congealing spot at the top of the Notre Dame football depth chart, at the rush end position, hints at all business.

In reality, Jay Hayes’ climb into relevance is all about striking a balance.

Between football and academics. Between punch lines and defensive lines. Between a tumultuous recent past and a promising future that Hayes is intent on retaining and honing.

“Yoga is kicking my butt,” the 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., proclaimed rather proudly after a recent practice.

And also making him more complete and more resilient, he says.

It was quarterback Malik Zaire’s idea for him and Hayes to spend Monday and Wednesday nights this summer improving their flexibility and breathing at Solace Yoga Studios. They were joined by ascending cornerback Shaun Crawford and backup defensive lineman Brandon Tiassum, the latter a one-and-done participant, though, per Hayes.

“He was like, ‘Nah, I ain’t coming back, ’cause yoga is intense,’ ” Hayes related. “(But) it’s not something you do for two weeks, and you’re good.”

Had Hayes endeavored into yoga a year ago, though, he very well could have been the one looking for the early exit. In the span of a calendar year in 2015, Hayes spent one semester contemplating a transfer, then the next digging himself out of an academic hole that almost left him with no choice but to leave.

“Football makes you find out a lot about yourself,” he said.

What Hayes found out in spring semester of 2016 was that the player that schools like Alabama, USC, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia, Florida and Michigan so coveted when he was at Brooklyn Poly Prep was there all along. So was the student. It just took maturity and a shifted perspective to clear the fog.

His limited playing time as a freshman in 2014 made Hayes obsess about football and playing time last fall, to the point where his academics suffered.

“It got to the point I didn’t leave my room,” he said. “I isolated myself. I was always thinking, ‘Watch film, watch film, watch film, watch film.’ And then football was taking a toll on me.

I wanted to play so bad. When you’re out there, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I could easily play with these dudes.’ Football just took so much control of my life.

“I was just doing everything football, everything football, everything football. Working out late night. Working out at 2 a.m. That was a bad ride.”

And the playing time didn’t come either. Hayes ended up redshirting in 2015.

Then teammate Jarron Jones got in Hayes’ head and former teammate Sheldon Day and ND associate director of academic services Adam Sargent and Irish strength coach Paul Longo.

The message? Don’t worry about the big picture. Focus on getting the little things right, and the big picture will take care of itself.

And this past spring, Hayes recorded a 3.0 GPA, his best academic showing to go along with his best football showing at the time.

“He’s growing up as a young man, and you see that manifest itself on the football field,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s a physical son of a gun, now. I remember him on scout team. (Tight end) Tyler Luatua is happy he’s no longer (on it).

“He’s just a physical, physical football player. The combination of him and Daelin, I mean our edge — it’s a handful. He’s going to be a good fit for us.”

Daelin is Daelin Hayes, the freshman class prodigy and a more prototypical 6-4, 257 with drop-into-coverage skills to complement his pass rush moves. The two Hayeses aren’t related but are very close and embrace working as a tag team.

Jay Hayes, a backup defensive tackle when spring practice started, shifted to end when the then-projected starter, Andrew Trumbetti, suffered a minor injury. Two days later, he was pushing Trumbetti for the top spot.

By the end of spring, the player with two career tackles and three cameos of playing time over two years had overtaken Trumbetti, a junior with starting experience and a fuller track record.

Yet Notre Dame’s two-deeps are teeming with players like Hayes — with short, interrupted or non-existent college résumés who will be counted on for breakout seasons to coax ND into the playoffs. None, though, perhaps has such a transformative mind-set to go along with his obscurity-to-prime time narrative.

“It wasn’t really looking clear to me, my future,” he said. “By putting in the extra work, putting in the extra time, doing what I have to do, I’m seeing it pay off. That and balance.

“There’s still more improvement that needs to be done. But it’s not about the sprint. It’s about the marathon, so you take it a day at a time.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame defensive end Jay Hayes (93) during practice on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, at LaBar Practice Field at Notre Dame in South Bend. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)