Notre Dame prodigy Daelin Hayes embraces patient approach to development

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

His relevance in Saturday’s Shamrock Series cut-block-athon with Army (5-4) at the Alamodome in San Antonio figures to be peripheral at best.

Not that freshman Daelin Hayes’ head is swimming in X-and-O overkill from triple-option minutia, not that he’s oppressed by the pressures of being once branded a five-star recruit, not that his twice surgically repaired right shoulder is suddenly not cooperating.

It’s because the most exalted prospect on the defensive side of the ball for Notre Dame (3-6) has bought into building a foundation first for who he is about to become.

Call it old school. Call it throwback. Call it a rare blend of maturity and patience. It’s Hayes’ version of the “it” factor.

“Football, academics, he’s just approached everything very maturely and he’s always just calm,” offered Irish senior defensive end Isaac Rochell of the 6-foot-4, 239-pound hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. “I’ll be curious to see how his development continues. But if he continues at the pace he is now, he’ll be unstoppable.”

“He’s going to be scary, once he really understands the game at the college level,” added Chanterius Brock, who coached Hayes during his injury-truncated senior season at Skyline High in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“He’s just a different kid. I think some of it comes from knowing exactly what he wants. He’s not out here trying to chase some ghost of who he wants to be. He knows exactly who he wants to be.

“He wants to be a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He wants to own his own business. He wants to play in NFL. So he knows exactly what his target is. And he’s going about the business of chasing it.”

Statistically, what that looks like through nine college games is a modest 10 tackles, with a pass breakup against Michigan State, that became freshman safety Devin Studstill’s first career interception, and a forced fumble against N.C. State.

What that looks like behind the scenes is entirely different.

Hayes, the 18th Rivals Era (2002-present) five-star prospect to end up in a Notre Dame recruiting class, was poached from USC’s fold and opted to enroll early, in January. That, despite knowing shoulder surgery would keep him from being able to go through the contact portion of spring drills.

“I wanted to 1) get healthy, and 2) learn the scheme,” Hayes said earlier this week. “Both of which I felt like I accomplished. The physical therapy — (team trainer) Rob Hunt — all those guys got me right. I never rehabbed the right way before and I had never done it that intense.”

He also changed his diet, at the urging of director of football strength and conditioning Paul Longo, and transformed over the summer from a bulky 261 pounds to his current, chiseled 239.

“I wanted to be cut,” he said with a smile. “You want me to take off my shirt? Ha, just kidding.”

Then, he wanted to learn how to practice the right way — learn the right techniques, learn the right consistency of effort, learn from and respect the players who came before him.

“You get a kid with those physical tools and often times they kind of think they know everything,” said Brock, who has since moved on to Ecorse (Mich.) High. “This kid, he’s just dying to be coached. And so that’s what I loved about him.”

Hayes now studies film of NFL pass-rushing standouts Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley and Von Miller, even though in games he drops into coverage way more than launches himself toward the opposing QB. In practice, though, he regularly gets a chance to use his quickness and his hands to chase the passer.

With ND, post-Brian VanGorder, evolving back into a team that constantly flips its defensive front from 3-4 to 4-3, Irish head coach Brian Kelly wants Hayes to hone both skill sets. Think Prince Shembo and Darius Fleming in the old Bob Diaco-led Irish defensive scheme.

“That’s kind of how we see him — dynamic pass rusher, but a guy that’s obviously athletic enough that he could cover a tight end, could cover a No. 2 receiver in into the short field, things of that nature,” Kelly said.

“He’s great to coach, and he’s got great energy. And you can see that he’s going to be a really great football player for us. There’s a huge investment in Daelin Hayes in terms of teaching him the game and some of the subtleties of the game that, quite frankly, didn’t get a lot of the last couple of years.”

Transfers, brought on by a custody battle, and injuries limited Hayes to fewer than 10 actual games over his final three seasons in high school.

“I don’t think it really affected (my progress) one way or another,” he said. “Just attacking every day with a learning mentality, being coachable, practicing at a high level, I think that will speed expedite the process itself.

“I’m just taking this opportunity as a learning curve, if you will. It’s your freshman year, so you obviously don’t want to rush everything. The plays that come to you will come to you by you doing your job, focusing on my assignment, watching the guys in front of me — how they practice and how they’re doing everything.

“Just by watching them and making sure I’m detailing my work, the opportunities will present themselves.”

How fast? How soon? How convincingly?

“I’ve known Daelin since he was a seventh-grader,” Brock said. “Even then, he was long, athletic — and you really didn’t know what position he was going to end up being, because he could do special things from just about anywhere. I remember seeing him play safety as an eighth-grader in 7-on-7, and excelling.

“You saw the maturity even then, the work ethic, how strong he was in the face of overcoming injuries. They don’t make them like him very often.

“Just being able to put together a whole season of football on the field and then approach the offseason not recovering from an injury, but actually building upon what he did on the field this past year, it’s going to be crazy. I can’t wait.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame freshman Daelin Hayes (9) and sophomore Asmar Bilal (22) celebrate after a turnover during the Notre Dame-N.C. State game, Oct. 8 in Raleigh, NC. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

The following are the 18 five-star prospects, per Rivals.com, who ended up in Notre Dame’s recruiting classes during the Rivals Era (2002-present). Included are the players’ recruited positions, recruiting year and overall national rank in their respective class:

Player Pos. Class Rk

Greg Olsen TE 2003 10

Victor Abiamiri DE 2003 23

Sam Young OT 2006 11

James Aldridge RB 2006 27

Jimmy Clausen QB 2007 1

Kyle Rudolph TE 2008 20

Dayne Crist QB 2008 25

Michael Floyd WR 2008 27

Manti Te’o LB 2009 12

Ishaq Williams OLB 2011 16

Stephon Tuitt DE 2011 22

Gunner Kiel QB 2012 20

Jaylon Smith LB 2013 3

Greg Bryant RB 2013 19

Eddie Vanderdoes DE 2013 21

Max Redfield S 2013 30

Quenton Nelson OT 2014 29

Daelin Hayes OLB 2016 31