Daelin Hayes and LaKeshia Neal are both impressed with Michigan's academic programs. (Photo courtesy of Sam Webb)
When Orchard Lake St. Mary’s sophomore running back/linebacker Daelin Hayes looks back on the football season he can’t help but feel disappointed. What was supposed to be a breakout year for the rising 2016 prospect was instead one that was derailed by injury.
“I had high ambition and high hopes, but unfortunately God had a different plan,” said Hayes. “I hurt my shoulder. He told me, ‘Not yet. Let’s sit back and let’s get bigger, gets faster.’ He had a whole different plan for me. Since the season I went from being 6-1, 200 pounds to 6-3, 225 pounds now. So I’ve definitely taken advantage of this (setback) by getting bigger, faster, and stronger. (I’ve) enhanced my game by just becoming a better student of the game. Second, when I hurt my shoulder I thought my season was going to be a complete bust. I missed my sophomore campaign and I didn’t think my recruiting was going to be as high as it is right now.”
That wasn’t an unrealistic belief to have considering the limited amount of tape there is for college suitors to evaluate.
“I played around two and a half (games),” said Hayes. “I had a whole scrimmage tape. A lot of my film is actually scrimmage tape, then I had a few plays. I had four runs against U-D for like 60 yards. I had two runs against Oak Park. All in and all I probably played 20 plays the entire season.”
For many prospects that would have been an impossible obstacle to traverse, but for Hayes it turned out not to be. His obvious athletic potential mitigated the concern that a few of his suitors may have had over his lack of film. The first to look past the perceived hindrance and extend a scholarship offer in late January was Michigan State.
"(The first offer) means the world to me,” Hayes told Scout.com. “MSU will always have a special place in my mind. They were the first school to start recruiting me my ninth grade year and they were the first to offer in my 10th. It's a great place to be. Go Green."
One of the feathers in the Spartans cap is Hayes’ relationship with their Director of College Advancement and Performance, Curtis Blackwell. Hayes is a part of the Maximum Exposure 7-on-7 program that Blackwell founded prior to accepting his position at Michigan State.
“Coach is trying to get me to commit ASAP,” Hayes told Scout.com. “But I’ve known Coach Blackwell since I was 11 playing in little league. His message is really to enjoy the process and find the best fit for me, and continue to get stronger and faster and everything else will work itself out."
Michigan offer a surprise
Hayes decided to heed the latter piece of advice and saw his recruitment expand as a result. In recent weeks Tennessee and Michigan both joined the scholarship fold, with the Maize and Blue experience standing out as one that was particularly impactful.
“Coach (Fred) Jackson had told me to stay after (Michigan’s spring practice on March 22) -- that Coach Hoke had wanted to talk to me,” said Hayes. “Coach Hoke called me over and he was just like, ‘How did you like practice?’ I was like, ‘It was great.’ He said, ‘How would you like to play linebacker for the University of Michigan?’ I was like, ‘I’d love to coach!’ He was like ‘congratulations’ and gave me a big hug. I almost cried. I had an emotional moment (laughter). It was a big day.”
“My mom was more emotional than me. Coach (Chris) Singletary had told her earlier in the week, but she wasn’t supposed to tell me. It was not as big as a surprise (to her), but she was still very excited.”
As pleased as she is with the on-field possibilities that are emerging for her son, LaKeshia Neal is even more enthused by the opportunities taking shape off of it.
“Well, there are a few things that I look for (in a school),” Ms. Neal said. “First and foremost I’m an educator. I work with Detroit Public Schools and have been a classroom teaching, and now work as an administrator. I’ve worked as a coach. A core academic component is going to have a heavy bearing on the decision that we make. I want to make sure the school he chooses for college has strong academics. Not only just strong academics, I want them to have a support system -- a family system in place where he is going to have folks surrounding him that are like-minded in terms of goals and supporting him in the achievement of his personal goals. But then I also want him to have a good fit with the athletic team. I want to make sure that in terms of his athletic ability he has the most opportunities to develop as a player and also to build some long-lasting relationships.
“I want to make sure that it is the perfect fit for him all the way around.”
The scholastic lens through which she views her son’s options renders the academic presentations put on by the respective programs especially important. It’s a criterion that Michigan met with flying colors.
“My mom is thoroughly impressed with Michigan and their education because football does end. That degree does not,” said Hayes.
“I like the University of Michigan in terms of the reputation that they have,” Neal said. “More than just a well-known institution in the (state), it’s a nationally-recognized institution educationally. In terms of Daelin’s degree being able to carry him, it will give him the opportunity and open doors to a network that is not just across the United States, but across the world. Of course that is an opportunity that I want my son to have. So that was one of the reasons I was pretty excited about the Michigan offer.
“Beyond that I like the University of Michigan as well because of the staff and the camaraderie that I have seen with the young men that play on the team. From what I have seen, those gentleman genuinely like each other. They like spending time with one another. They seem to be friends outside of just the fact that they are teammates and they have to spend time together. And then (there’s) the history behind the University of Michigan. I like the University of Michigan, needless to say.”
Neal added: “I like Michigan State also. I like the staff there. I do like their facilities and their academic program. But in terms of their network that you build, they have the MPACT (Michigan Professional and Career Transition) program at the University of Michigan where they bring in folks that have already graduated just to share with the young men about future opportunities and career choices. I think that is an experience that is second to none.”
For his part, Hayes isn’t publicly claiming any favorites. The in-state schools both have made strong initial impressions, he has strong relationships with each staff, and he has close ties to players in both programs. St. Mary’s teammates Jalen Watts-Jackson and Tyson Smith will play college football in East Lansing, while cousin Justice Hayes is heading into his junior year in Ann Arbor. For now Daelin is content getting to know each of his suitors on a deeper level while waiting to see what new ones will join the fold.
“I think Penn State is going to offer me soon,” said Hayes. “I just need to get down there one time. I plan to visit them on April 12. (The focus after that is) mostly just getting back to work, I’m running track right now. I’m being a leader for my teammates, continuing to bust my butt at practice and continue to work hard.”
“We’ve talked about doing a few more visits once the weather breaks,” said Neal. “He does want to go back out to Michigan State. He does want to go to Penn State. So those are a few schools that he would like to visit. In terms of our decision-making process, we are just waiting. I want Daelin to have a few more experiences. With him being so young, again only being a sophomore, it is important that he has an opportunity to just really experience the recruiting process. My goal is for him to find a school that he feels is a good fit in terms of his athletic style and academically -- (for him) to think beyond just his football life and to make a decision based on those factors.”
Mom’s message has clearly found its mark.
Said Hayes, “You want to be in like a family atmosphere. The best coaching, but the number one thing is going to be education. How far will that degree carry me after football has ended? Football has an expiration date, but the degree does not. That’s going to be the biggest thing. My mom wants me to be happy where I’m at, but she really wants me to go to a school where I’m going to get a great education.”
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears every week at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.