Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jerome Back at Home

Heading into the 2007 Penn State football season, I told my dad to watch out for this kid named Jerome Hayes, No. 5 — a stand-up defensive end who was put on this earth to terrorize quarterbacks.

In his redshirt freshman season of 2006, he was a beastly talent on special teams, and it was only a matter of time before he became an impact player on defense. In the second game of his sophomore season, Jerome Hayes was the most dominant player on the field against Notre Dame, as Penn State got its retribution from the embarrassing 41-17 loss in South Bend the year before in the form of a 31-10 stomping of the Irish. All game long, Hayes was in the backfield wreaking havoc. Outmanned Notre Dame simply couldn't block him.

My dad, in attendance with me in the north end zone, said he could see why I was so high on Hayes. That day, he solidified himself as my favorite player on the team. Unfortunately, it would be the last time I'd see Jerome Hayes in person for a while. Five games later, Hayes tore his right ACL against Wisconsin and was lost for the season. I was devastated. My favorite player was gone, and Penn State was without one of its most talented pass rushers.

Last season, my first as a season ticket holder post-graduation, I was equally excited to be back for every game as I was to see Jerome Hayes take the field yet again. How would his knee hold up? How much would he play? Would he be the same player I couldn't take my eyes off every time he stepped on the field before the injury?

As fate would have it, I couldn't go to my very first game as a graduate season ticket holder because my sister decided to get married that day. How selfish of her. Turns out, Hayes played sparingly, recording a tackle, so I didn't miss much.

Finally, Sept. 6 rolled around, and I was ready to watch Hayes and the Nittany Lions take on Oregon State. The game went incredibly well for Penn State, demolishing an Oregon State team that was supposed to be one of the better teams in the PAC-10 and a team that wound up upsetting USC later in the season. But in my first game back, my favorite player, Jerome Hayes, tore an ACL again, this time his left one on an illegal chop block covering a kick in the fourth quarter.

When I heard the news, my heart sank. How unlucky can this guy be? Two seasons of promise, two seasons with torn ACLs on two different legs. It would almost be comical if it wasn't so tragic. Jerome Hayes was supposed to be destined for greatness. Instead, his football career was in question.

Well, it's a new year, a new season is upon us. Jerome Hayes is in his senior season, and he's ready to go.

There are many compelling stories to the 2009 version of the Nittany Lions. A repeat opportunity for another Big 10 title. Replacing key members of the offensive and defensive lines, along with virtually the entire secondary. The return of Sean Lee. The even further development of Navorro Bowman. Daryll Clark. Evan Royster. The new wide receivers. The list goes on and on.

But the most compelling for me, the one I want to work out just as much as all the others, if not more, is the return of Jerome Hayes. Finally, after two seasons of a cruel fate, he's back home on the field, ready to make an impact and resume a career that once showed so much promise. If you care about Penn State football at all, pray for Jerome Hayes to make it through this season unscathed, healthy and on the field.

Keep your eyes on him, because this is a man on a mission, ready to help lead a national championship charge. If he's anything like the player he was that day against Notre Dame, that will be easy. You won't be able to take your eyes off him when he steps between those lines, and for both Penn State and Jerome Hayes, that would be a very, very good thing.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. Great piece. Im excited about Hayes. This team will surprise a lot of people outside of State College. The #8 preseason ranking is fine, no pressure for PSU. Go Nittany Lions!

  2. Thanks man. Yeah, if their lines come together, this team will be dangerous … and that soft schedule sets up nicely for them as long as they don't suffer an inexcusable loss.