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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Larger than life: Jay Hayes brings senior leadership to table for Irish

Lauren Weldon and Chris Collins | The Observer

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Oct. 27 edition of The Observer.

Jay Hayes doesn’t stop smiling. But the senior defensive lineman’s, and his self-described “big personality,” road to the top wasn’t always an easy one. Hayes came to football through his best friend after the death of his father when he was 11 years old. “I ended up playing football just from my best friend,” Hayes said. “I was dealing with my father’s death and my friend just told me, ‘You want to get your mind off that? You want to join a football team with me?’ And like, might as well do it.” Hayes’ father, Joseph Hinds, who had been in and out of Hayes’ life, died a week after being shot. Hayes also lost his grandfa  ther — with whom he was very close — and uncle in the same year. Hayes said the experience of losing so many male role models in such a short period of time at such a young age forced him to appreciate the other men in his life. “It just grew me to be stronger and it just grew me to understand the male figures in my life,” Hayes said. “The father figures that were coming in and out of my life through church, through football, through different coaches, through school. Take certain life nuggets from everybody. Every man that I met.” Hayes, however, lights up and breaks into a smile when talking about the women in his life — his mother and grandmother, who raised him. “They’ve just been so loving and supportive and keeping me out of trouble growing up,” he said. “They gave me all the resources that I needed to get to where I am right now and I appreciate that. “ … My role model is my mom. My mom did so much for me growing up. She did the best she could and I respect that and that means so much to me. My mom is a big part of my success.” Eventually, Hayes found himself at Poly Prep, an independent prep school in the Dyker Heights region of Brooklyn. The school is known for its academic rigor — Hayes was forced to repeat eighth grade — and he leaned on football and his teammates. “I just had my teammates there at Poly Prep just helping me and guiding me and my coach, Coach Mangiero and a lot of good people to help me with school,” he said. “And I also had [former Notre Dame cornerback] Jesse Bongiovi right by my side, helping me.” While in high school, Hayes worked with the Gridiron Group in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and his local YMCA to give back to his community and teach local kids to play football. “We just said let’s go back to the YMCA and take kids and help out,” Hayes said. “ … It meant a lot to learn from an NFL defensive tackle and at the same time, show my face and help other kids that were in the same position as me and that went to the same YMCA that I went to growing up.” Upon arriving at Notre Dame, Hayes was set to redshirt his freshman year — until Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones went down to injury. Hayes was forced to burn his redshirt with three games remaining in his freshman season, picking up tackles against Louisville and LSU. “It was exciting just to get out there and play,” Hayes said. “Always, to play in a game is fun. It was a real exciting moment.” Things took a turn for Hayes the next year. He saw no game action and was moved to the scout team. In fact, he was benched for Notre Dame’s 62-27 win over UMass after apparently criticizing his coaches in a tweet. “I just learned everything that you do has a consequence and you should be mindful of the things that you do, because what you do has a consequence,” Hayes said. The lows of not playing hit Hayes hard, to the point that he seriously considered transferring. “[Sophomore year] was pretty frustrating, but at the same time, I told myself if I just keep working, something good is going to happen,” Hayes said. “ … I mean, yeah, [I thought about transferring]. I feel like a lot of people do and I was one of those people. And I spoke to a lot of people that brought me back to my senses and said it’s just too early in my career.” The decision to stick around with the Irish has paid off for the 6-foot-4-inch, 290 pound senior. Last season, he saw action in 10 games and recorded 10 tackles. However, last season’s improvement did not leave Hayes satisfied. He was not a starter and he was splitting time. “Splitting time with players can be frustrating for players, especially for me,” Hayes said. “It was always just go to work, go to work, go to work, do my craft and keep working. And when I keep working something good is going to happen. So, it was a little frustrating. Just the season as a whole was frustrating because we were losing games, so that’s what I was more frustrated about.” This season is a different story for Hayes. He has been in his element. The defensive lineman has tallied 18 tackles so far this season, along with a sack, a fumble recovery, two passes defended and a safety. Hayes said he hasn’t changed anything this season; it’s been about continued focus for the path to success. “Just continue to watch film, attention to detail,” he said. “I’m just having fun, really, right now. I’m having fun playing real hard with my guys out there. That’s really it, just practicing and playing real hard. “It feels good. It feels real good. And I know we’re going to continue to have the success that we want if we work hard.” The major change for Hayes this season has been fitting in with a new defensive coordinator in Mike Elko. “I think I fit in real well [with Elko’s scheme], just being a physical part of the defense up front and doing a lot of the dirty work and beating up on some of the tight ends and tackles,” Hayes said. “I think I fit real well.” Hayes is one of the best-known players off the field, as well. He is well-known for cracking jokes and smiling continuously. “I’m always being myself. I’ve always been a big personality, I’ve always been myself,” he said. “ … I just like to be a teammate that people like to have around.” He takes pride in knowing the names of every player on the roster, to the point that he instituted “Know Your Teammate Tuesday,” the first iteration of which occurred Tuesday. “Yeah. I know everybody’s name,” he said, shaking his head as if it were obvious and laughing. “We had ‘Know Your Teammate Tuesday’ yesterday. So, I got quizzed on that and I quizzed a few people. And some people, they need a little bit of work. They know who they are, but yeah … it started yesterday. Every Tuesday. Every Tuesday, you’d better know the name that I call. We go by last names, so you’d better know the first name. … Yeah there are consequences. People are gonna boo you. People are gonna shun you. Shame! People are gonna shame you. You’ve got to know your teammates.” Hayes, the self-described big brother of the team, said he knows how to rally the team together and sees himself as a hype man in the locker room. “[My relationship with my teammates is] fun, it’s loving. It’s big brother-ish. It’s a funny relationship. And it’s serious,” Hayes said, smiling, as always. “When it’s time to work, it’s time to work. When it’s time to have fun, it’s time to have fun. “ … My role in the locker room is to give energy, to make sure everybody is cool. Make sure everybody in my section is feeling good. Make sure everybody in my section has their stuff together, their stuff is clean. That’s my role.” While Hayes will graduate with a degree in film, television and theater in May, he still has another year of eligibility. However, at the moment, he isn’t sure of what his next step will be. He is simply focused on what comes tomorrow. “I’m just taking everything a day at a time, so whatever happens happens,” Hayes said. “Right now I’m just living a day at a time, a day at a time, a day a time, a day at a time.”