Freshman Chase Hayden has shown fall flash

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Arkansas running back Chase Hayden goes through practice Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas running back Chase Hayden goes through practice Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— Chase Hayden could've been lining up in the secondary for Tennessee a week from Monday when the Vols open their season against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

But instead of following his dad Aaron’s footsteps and playing in Knoxville, Hayden will open his college career as a tailback in Little Rock next Thursday when Arkansas hosts Florida A&M.

“It's going to be kind of surreal, to be honest,” Hayden said. “It feels just like yesterday I was in high school, getting ready for the high school season. It's going to be kind of a little shock.

“I know that stadium is smaller, but it's still going to be 55,000 fans and I've never played in front of that. That's going to be real cool. I'm excited.”

His mom and dad, who went on to a four-year NFL career with San Diego, Green Bay and Philadelphia after starring for the Vols, will be in attendance and other family members will watch the 7 p.m. game on television via the SEC Network.

“I know my family will be up there,” Hayden said. “I know like my mom and dad will be up there. I don't know about the rest of my family, because it's on a Thursday. They might have to work and stuff, but I know they'll be watching.”

Hayden (5-10, 191) rushed for over 7,000 yards and 92 touchdowns in his career for St. George’s Independent School, located just outside of Memphis.

That included 1,940 yards on 160 carries - an average of 12.1 yards per rush - as a senior while finding the end zone 29 times.

He chose Arkansas over Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma State South Carolina, Mississippi State and others in part because the Razorback staff believed he could be a game-changing back while Vols head coach Butch Jones saw him as a defensive back.

His dad was on board with the decision.

“At first, he obviously thought I was going to Tennessee,” Hayden said. “I thought I was going to Tennessee. But once he got around the coaching staff and saw all the coaches and stuff he felt like Arkansas would be a good place for me to go to.”

Hayden has been a sensation in fall camp and is one of three backs expected to get carries in the opener along with starter Devwah Whaley and South Carolina graduate transfer David Williams.

Hayden is more of a speed back than the other two and notes he came in with the mindset of playing and not redshirting.

“I feel I just made big plays,” Hayden said. “I turned short runs into longer runs. I feel like I came in and showed that I can be physical, too. …I came in with that mindset (to play). That's part of the reason I came to Arkansas. I wanted to help the team get better. So, I came in with the mindset that I was going to try to contribute early.”

Hayden admits he wasn't necessarily expecting his early success.

“I have surprised myself,” Hayden said. “My mindset was to just come in here and just compete and give my best effort. I surprised myself a little bit, but you just keep that mindset and keep working hard and keeping a clear head and I think you can do a lot of things.”

Pass blocking has been the biggest challenge for Hayden.

“It's going pretty good,” Hayden said. “I'm getting better and better everyday. But it's still a long ways to go. When you get into SEC play, even against Florida A&M, they do a lot of tricky stuff, so I've just got to keep progressing and getting better for game time next week.”

He feels like he knows his role.

“Obviously they want me back there to make big plays, help the team and contribute,” Hayden said. “They have just told me to go out there and contribute, not change what I do.

“The only advice they have really given me is that they want me to kind of change is to run within the scheme. That is what I have really been working on and it has helped me get a lot better.”

The staff has not talked about the distribution of carries yet per Hayden.

“They haven’t told us anything specific about that,” Hayden said. “They’ve just told us that everybody has to be ready to play so that is what everybody’s mentality has been in the room.”

Hayden is one of several players working on kickoff returns along with Deon Stewart, Jordan Jones, De'Vion Warren and Chevin Calloway.

Because of new NCAA rules, this camp has been the longest in terms of days from start to end than any ever at Arkansas.

“Everything in college is just 10 times more intense so you have got to come in and look at something every day,” Hayden said. “Every day you just have to pack in all this stuff that you have to learn. You have to learn something every day so you can just help the team. It is all about what you are doing, what an individual is doing to help the team.”

That has caused some legs to get tired.

“Definitely,” Hayden said. “All of last week. I think everybody was kind of fatigued. Everybody’s legs were tired and you just have to push through it and that’s what we did.”

It helped that strength and conditioning coach Ben Hebert has monitored that.

“Yes, Coach Herb has been doing all that soft tissue and cold tub and so they are getting us back right,” Hayden said.

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