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New captain Hayes credits faith, teammates after returning from injury

| Friday, December 18, 2020

Less than a year ago, defensive end Daelin Hayes was not in an ideal situation. After suffering its first loss of the season on the road to Georgia, Notre Dame would host Virginia at home. Hayes, then a senior, would tear his labrum in his right shoulder on his first play from scrimmage against the Cavaliers. Since the Irish were only four games into the season at the time of his injury however, Hayes was allowed to redshirt and gain an extra year of eligibility with the Irish. 

He would have to sit on the sidelines for the remainder of the 2019 season, but he did not mope about his situation. In fact, he found solace with it. He took to Instagram shortly after he was deemed out for the season to reaffirm his commitment to the team.

“It is in these lessons that I have found peace within my current circumstance,” he said. “I am blessed to have had the opportunity to suit up for this University with the greatest brotherhood I’ve ever known. I am even more blessed to have been granted an opportunity to return next year for my fifth year.”

Observer File Photo
Irish graduate student defensive end Daelin Hayes turns back to the play during Notre Dame’s 23-17 loss to Georgia on Sept. 21, 2019.

Not only has Hayes returned for a graduate year, but he has also been named a captain, an announcement that came as a surprise to few as he had already established himself as one of the many leaders on the Irish defense alongside fellow defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara. His senior season was robbed while he was at his peak level of performance, and then the 2020 offseason came. When so much uncertainty loomed over the future of college football, Hayes stepped up and took a tremendous leadership role. 

After the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing prostests that ignited across the country, Hayes lead his own team on a march around campus on Juneteenth. He gave a speech about the need for commitment and accountability amongst the community and education of the subject of Black culture and history. 

Hayes had a rollercoaster of a past year, but he was not backing down from his leadership role. Three months later Brian Kelly named him a captain, almost exactly a year after he was sidelined for the season. Hayes’ reaction was one of pure gratitude and honor. 

“It means everything. I don’t know if there’s ever been anything in my life that I’ve been more proud of, aside from choosing to come to Notre Dame,” Hayes said. “When you choose to come to a place like this that is so special and be given the opportunity to serve your teammates, as a captain of your organization in your University. This is a great honor. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m excited and I’m ready to lead and I’m ready to serve my teammates.”

Though the journey has been a long one, Hayes is excited for the opportunity and ready to move forward.

“[There has been] a lot of adversity, a lot of obstacles that I’ve had to overcome, but I’m here, by the grace of God, and with him at the forefront of my life, I can continue to take steps and I’m excited about the season,” he said. “This is the first step to a long journey, and I’m excited about it. I’m blessed to be a part of this University in such a long line of great leaders and great men that have come through our organization in this team. It’s a blessing, and I’m thankful. I’m grateful, and I’m excited to move forward.”

At the time of his injury Hayes had six tackles and one sack on the season, but his trajectory was certainly trending up. In his freshman season in 2016, Hayes had 11 tackles and one forced fumble. The next year he would record 30 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Hayes was already established on the field by the end of his sophomore year and when his junior season rolled around he would tally 32 tackles, five for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. At the time of his injury he had accumulated 78 career tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, one forced fumble and four fumble recoveries. But more importantly, Hayes had established himself as a leader off of the field just as much as on the field.

Though Hayes has contributed so much to the defense he still has a mindset that forces him to strive for excellence, and he would be the first person to tell you that he has plenty of room to improve his game. He reflected on where he was one year ago. 

“Who was I a year ago? I was a role player playing behind two great captains and defensive ends, Julian and Khalid last year,” he said. “I was having fun, I was having fun with the game, I was rediscovering my love for the game. I was probably playing my best ball that I had … in my career. Two weeks later I ended up being hurt, but I was fine. I was good with it; I knew I had another opportunity to come back to be with my brothers.”

Even though Hayes was having fun providing a backbone to the Irish defense he still felt he had much more to offer to the University.   

“One thing that stuck in my head last year, and I was kind of disappointed about, was that I felt that I had more to give to this University and to this team.” Hayes said. “I felt like I had a lot more in the tank from the leadership aspect, from a player aspect, from a student aspect, just being involved in our community of Notre Dame and the community itself. I just felt like there was so much more left on the table for me to give.”

Hayes’ injury was obviously devastating at the time, but he has actually come to appreciate it in a way, even saying he is grateful that things played out the way they did.

“God gave me another opportunity, another year to come back, to be involved in the community, to stand up for what was right with our team,” Hayes said. “Our team stood for social justice, and we continue to stand for that, being involved in our community, being involved with countless, countless organizations throughout campus and whatnot. And then obviously coming to this point of being a captain right now, I felt like God was speaking to my heart last year, and I didn’t know how it would play out.”

However, he said that he would not have gotten through it without a bevy of support from those around him.

“It came through, by way of a shoulder injury on my first play against Virginia last year, and I’m just so grateful for that moment,” he said. “At the time it was heartbreaking, my season was over, but God has turned that around into a magnificent victory. I’m so grateful for it and I owe Him all the credit, and I owe my teammates the rest of the credit. Without them, without the grace of God, without my brothers and without our coaches and my support staff — my parents — I wouldn’t be here. That’s just the God’s honest truth. … I would have been broken. I would have been discouraged. It would have been too much for me to handle, but I relied on my brothers, I relied on my family, I relied on my coaches and I relied on my faith, and I stand before you today.”

Presently though, Hayes is focused on getting a win Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium against Duke in front of his classmates. And he isn’t concerned about not being prepared because of the pandemic.

“We’ve been preparing as if we were going to play a game this entire time,” he said. “From the time that we stepped back on campus back in June, everything that we’ve done has been with the intent that we will be playing. So you know, every day, choosing, making that choice to treat it as if it’s your last because you know with this COVID situation, you never know what comes next. So, I think that it gave guys the extra hunger, extra boost, to give it everything that you had with nothing being set in stone. So that faith that we’ve been operating on and that energy and that that commitment to taking it one day at a time, I think, will prepare us to go out and play great football, so I think we’re more than prepared.

“I trust our preparation. We have a process and we stick to it, and that has not changed with this whole COVID thing and I don’t ever see it changing,” he said. “It’s something that we rely on, and we’re excited to put it on display come this Saturday.”

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About Jimmy Ward

Jimmy is a senior at Holy Cross College, where he studies English and sports management. He is originally from Westfield, Indiana. Currently, Jimmy serves as an associate sports editor at The Observer. You can find him at @jimmyyward on Twitter.

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