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Daelin Hayes embracing leadership role after season-ending injury

| Friday, November 22, 2019

In 2017, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hosted their bitter rivals, the USC Trojans, in late October. A year ago, the Irish had been blown out by the Trojans at the end of a demoralizing 2016 campaign. This year was about avenging that embarrassment, and the Irish did just that, taking down the Trojans 49-14. Then a sophomore, Notre Dame defensive lineman Daelin Hayes was a force, recording a sack and disrupting USC quarterback Sam Darnold all game long. It’s Hayes’ favorite memory with the Irish, but he came pretty close to playing that game from the other side.

Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish senior defensive lineman Daelin Hayes drops back for to cover a pass during Notre Dame’s 66-14 victory over New Mexico on Sept. 14 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I was committed to USC for two years,” Hayes said. “I think I committed more to Los Angeles than USC, though. Being a kid from Michigan, it was my first time on the west coast. I always loved Notre Dame, and coming back here, I knew it was the place I was meant to be.” 

Hayes felt at home with his choice of school for not only the football program, but also what the University offered off the field. The dorm life, campus scenery and academics all are aspects of the Notre Dame experience that Hayes feels he benefited from.

While football and academics — Hayes is a film, broadcasting and television major — takes up a large portion of Hayes’ time, he also enjoyed the time he spent in his dorm, O’Neill Hall, during his years living on campus. He stayed in the same section as fellow defensive lineman Khalid Kareem, and the duo became part of what Hayes described as a “very welcoming, tight-knit group”. 

But his favorite non-football related memory? Hayes can’t name a specific event, but rather thinks about his favorite time of year.

“I love when we come out of the winter and it’s been such a tundra for months, and we start transition from spring to summer,” Hayes said. “I tell people all the time, I don’t think there’s a more beautiful place in the world.” 

However, despite his embrace of the dorm culture and academics at Notre Dame, Hayes’ greatest impact has come on the field. 

The Irish have benefited greatly from Hayes’ change of heart, as the senior standout missed only one game over his first three years. Over those 37 games, Hayes accumulated 72 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and recovered four fumbles. Heading into his senior season, Hayes was primed for another strong season with the possibility of being drafted in April. In a devastating turn of events, Hayes was injured just four games into his senior campaign, tearing his labrum and ending his season. Thanks to the new redshirt rules, however, Hayes will be back next year to complete his Notre Dame career. In the meantime, he’s focused on continuing his growth as a leader within the Notre Dame locker room. 

“I think it’s a place that has challenged me to grow in different ways. I’ve learned to grow through adversity. It’s been a pretty cool process, and I’m glad I chose to come here,” Hayes said. “This is the best place for me to fully embrace as a young man and what I want to stand for.” 

After playing almost every game for three years, such a heartbreaking injury could have mentally destroyed Hayes, but he has taken it in stride, focusing on what he can do to best prepare for next season, when he will return as one of the most experienced players in the program. 

“I’m working on enhancing my leadership, stepping up and being the best leader I can be, establishing our culture early, and setting the tone,” Hayes said. “It’s all about earning that right to wear that monogram across your chest.”

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