Hayes goes back to the future


From L to R: Darius Hillary, Cecil Martin, Jesse Hayes and Ron Dayne.

Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes can sit at his computer at Paul Brown Stadium and find out all about his oldest child.

Rivals.com. Scoutingohio.com. The Duck Sports Authority. HuskersIllustrated.com. Google Cincinnati Moeller High School defensive end Jesse Hayes and his 18-year-old name comes up probably three times more than his uncle, Jon Hayes, a 12-year NFL veteran.

Jay Hayes wasn't exactly a slouch himself. A good three decades before they ran high school players' college commitments on the bottom line of TV, somehow the University of Idaho found him on the lip of Pittsburgh playing small-school defensive end at South Fayette and gave him a full ride. He was good enough to get called into some NFL training camps before he played in the USFL for two seasons, one year next to future Hall of Famer Reggie White.

That's back when the University of Wisconsin could show up at South Fayette a few days after the signing date wanting to know, "What is the Hayes kid doing?" "Signed at Idaho," he was told, but they wouldn't have had to make the trip today. On Rivals.com, the box for Jesse Hayes' recruiting trip to visit Nebraska this weekend is already checked.

But how different is it, really?

Next to Hayes' computer on his desk is a framed, faded photo from where the '60s met the '70s. He and Jon are in their Little League uniforms and their late dad who coached them is in the middle.

Friday nights is about all an NFL coach has. Well, Sunday nights and maybe a sliver of Thursday nights. But what happens on Sunday and Thursday nights?

"I'm just happy whenever I can watch my kids do anything," Jay Hayes says. "With the way our schedule works out, that didn't happen all that much until he started playing Friday nights. Before then, I saw him play maybe twice in junior high. But these Friday nights have been really fun."

Who is better? Hayes could have gone to some Ivy League schools and other academic hothouses like Lehigh, but as a middle-class kid with both parents working, he wasn't going to get enough aid to make it work.

"I was a pretty good high school player and I got recruited minimally, but nothing like him," says Jay Hayes with characteristic coaching measure. "At this point in his career, he's probably ahead of me."

"He was better," Jesse Hayes says with a laugh. "Because he's coming home later tonight and he's going to see me."

This past Friday afternoon, before Moeller's huge GCL game at LaSalle, Jay and wife Susan were able to go to "Feed The Team." It ended up being a tough 31-21 loss that prevented Moeller from clinching the title and a playoff berth. But there is something nice about going as a dad and not as a coach.

"I watch the game as a coach," he says, "but I keep an eye on him, too, to make sure he's doing what he should be doing."

The kid is 6-4, 230 pounds and when he visited Oregon last month with Susan, Ducks Illustrated reported he was the 17th-ranked defensive end in the nation and that Oregon, Wisconsin and Nebraska are in his top three. Scoutingohio.com says he has offers from 21 schools.

"His first offer came on Father's Day going into his junior year," Jay Hayes says of the call from North Carolina State. "When I was recruiting, we never offered that early."

And he did recruit, but it was back in the Stone Age. Long before Jesse got his first email from a recruiter, his dad had worked the trails for 11 collegiate seasons in the Midwest (Notre Dame, Wisconsin) and the West (California). He doesn't find himself comparing himself to the recruiters now coming into the living room and finds that the experience "has been quite professional."

"The biggest difference has to be the electronics," he says. "I never had email. We didn't text. Basically, we went with the phone calls and handwritten letters and that's about all you had."

The horse-and-buggy ways didn't prevent Hayes from snagging some blue-chippers. He got future Lombardi Award winner Aaron Taylor out of Concord, Calif., for Notre Dame and that turned into a lifelong friendship. Taylor's mother did needlepoint for all three of the Hayes' children when they were born and Taylor has been a mentor for Jesse. They've even put Jesse on a plane so he could spend time with Taylor at his home.

That's just one of the reasons that this two-year whirl of wooing and cooing doesn't seem to have turned the kid's head. He's been a ball boy for three different NFL teams (Steelers, Vikings, Bengals) where guys like Jerome Bettis, Randy Moss and Chris Henry have befriended him. And before he ever put on pads, Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton took him outside and showed him some moves.

"He went to Chris's funeral and when one of his classmates got killed in a car accident last month," Jay Hayes says, "he told his mom that was the saddest he'd ever been in his life until then.

"He's been around it, no question. So far, he's been pretty level-headed. I look at this stuff more than he does. He knows he doesn't necessarily need to do some of this stuff. It's not important. They can write what they want to write but it doesn't matter. He knows, until he decides where he wants to go, it doesn't matter. 'I have to go there and prove myself.' He knows it's a performance-based world."

Which is why he's home the night before the LaSalle game during finals week and studying for a Spanish exam filled with grammar and history.

"Everybody thinks my dad tells me everything to do," Jesse Hayes said. "It's not true. If I ask, he'll tell me. But almost always I have to ask him."

That's how he ended up at Moeller. Jay Hayes is a "public school guy." Both his parents taught public school and except for getting his Master's at Notre Dame, Hayes had always gone to public schools and he expected his kids to. But one day when Jesse was in eighth grade leafing through Sports Illustrated, he read an item on how Cincinnati's St. Xavier High School was unbeaten and such a power. The words cost Loveland High School a heck of a player.

"He asked me if he could go to a place like that and I said, 'We'll check it out,' " Jay Hayes says.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis helped. He got them the rarest ticket of all, to Elder High School's The Pit for a St. X game. Jesse's youngest brother Miles tagged along.

"Couldn't see an empty seat," Hayes says. "The boys were impressed. And I never knew where Moeller was until I drove by it once on my way somewhere else. But we live on that side of town and, it's funny, but that's a school I've known for a long time from reading about guys like Gerry Faust and Bob Crable."

They watch film together sometimes and they'll talk about football and Jay pulls him aside once in awhile to go over some technique. But it's not Football 101 24-7. It's real world stuff.

Like the other week when Jesse got back from Oregon. He asked Jay, who went to school 2,800 miles from South Fayette, what the long distance is like.

"He went to the west from Pittsburgh and that's a lot like leaving Cincinnati," Jesse Hayes says. "He told me it's tough at first, but you get used to it because you make friends fast and you're practicing every day. And the same thing with my uncle. He played at Iowa, so I can ask him about the Big Ten and what the football and campuses are like there. If I ask, they tell me."

Jay Hayes has to laugh. By the time he was in the eighth grade, he knew exactly what he wanted to do: Coach football. After watching the ABC Game of the Week on Saturday and the Notre Dame highlights on Sunday morning and the NFL on Sunday, there wasn't much else to do. Now kids have everything to do.

"You went outside and you pretended you were Franco Harris or Leroy Kelly," Jay Hayes says. "No, no video games. If you were lucky, you had that electronic football table where the players moved."

So while Jesse Hayes may not be quite the student of the game yet, Jay Hayes says its coming.

Here is the old recruiter's scouting report on his son:

"I'd say he's got above-average quickness. He uses his hands well for a kid his age. He can find the ball. He understands the game pretty much. He's going to have to get stronger physically. He's strong for a high school kid, but to play at the next level he's going to have to get a little stronger, a little bigger. He'll have to understand the game even better than he does now as he progresses more in football. He'll have to learn to study and understand the formations. They don't see the variations at our level or the collegiate level. I think he will do those things. He seems very committed to do those things. In time, he'll get into whatever program he decides to go, and he'll be a productive guy."

There are the Web sites, the headlines, the rankings, the hype, the early 21st-century warp speed transforming a kid into a product. But there is also the mid-20th century photo on Hayes' desk.

"Some of the rankings I take more seriously than others. The interest is unbelievable because you have fans commenting on the stories and they care just as much about whom their teams signs as they do if they win," Jay Hayes says. "It's flattering, but the most important thing for Susan and me is whenever someone comes up to one of us and tells us what a good kid or a nice young man he is. In the end, that's all you want, right?"

It's funny how things work. Remember when Wisconsin showed up a little late in February 1978? Jesse Hayes just went on a recruiting trip to Madison with Sycamore High School's Darius Hillary, son of former Bengals wide receiver Ira Hillary, and Jay Hayes is the proud owner of a photo of the two kids with Ron Dayne and Cecil Martin, two former Badgers that played there when Jay coached the outside backers and special teams.

And when you're a coach, sometimes it doesn't work out.

This Saturday is Senior Day and Jay Hayes will be on a plane to Atlanta instead of holding the crook of his son's elbow at the 50.

"It still kind of tears me up a little bit," Jay Hayes says. "But Susan will do what we've had to do a lot and she'll be both mom and dad."

But at some point later that day, the dad will no doubt be able to find him on a Web site like everyone else.

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