De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes’ roles as a Sun Devil have been as fluid and shifty as the redshirt senior is when he is on the field.
After arriving in Tempe from Lackawanna College (Pennsylvania) as part of Arizona State’s 2014 recruiting class, Hayes was forced into a redshirt year. Heading last season, Hayes was regularly cited as a solid change-of-pace option to complement the powerful combination of junior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.
While Richard and Ballage found their way into the rhythm of the offense, Hayes did not. Although he was a solid kickoff and punt returner (Hayes ranked top-5 in the Pac-12 in punt return yards), he never reached 40 yards receiving and rushing in a game. After racking up 36 yards on six touches in ASU’s loss to USC, he received just six touches the rest of the season.
However, midway through last year, ASU head coach Todd Graham started working Hayes with the defensive backs. Hayes played defensive back in high school and in portions in JUCO, and last year, he mentioned that he almost committed to Clemson as a defensive back.
Haynes showed enough during spring practice to earn first-team reps at field corner throughout fall camp. ASU defensive backs coach TJ Rushing has liked what Hayes has done so far in the preseason.
“I’ve seen a competitive spirit, and a guy that wants to learn, wants to be good, and he wants to help us out any way he can,” Rushing said. “He’s very selfless, and that’s what I love about him.
“Most running backs are set at running back. He could be a successful running back, but he wants to do what’s best for the team, so he moved over.”
On the same note, Hayes has been soaking up all he can from Rushing, who played for three years in the NFL, most notably as a kick/punt returner for the Indianapolis Colts. However, Hayes didn’t quite remember Rushing’s career when he was first hired.
“We went to Camp T and we’re telling our stories, I was like, ‘Hold on. I remember playing with (Rushing) on Madden. He was super fast,’” Hayes said. “I put two-and-two together.”
Regardless of how he realized who his coach was, Hayes knows Rushing is a key guy to his success.
“(Rushing)’s definitely a mentor as well as a coach,” Hayes said. “He gives us that advantage by him playing in the league, he just comes back and tells us all the things he’s been through and all the techniques and all the things to prepare for.”
Hayes cited that cornerbacks have a “swagger” that allows for success, and after a quiet debut season, it was all about regaining the confidence in a different way.
Having played extensively on offense throughout his time at ASU, Hayes said he can use that to help him on defense, especially when playing the ball in the air. Rushing is starting to see Hayes put it all together in meetings as well.
“He gets to film study, he’ll say ‘Oh yeah, that’s why we ran that,’” Rushing said. “It starts clicking for him because he’s been on the offensive side of the ball.”
Hayes has competed for reps at field corner, and he’s part of the group looking to bounce back after a horrendous 2015 campaign in which ASU was dead-last in the Pac-12 in pass defense. Some faces will be familiar, and plenty will be new, but the unity within the position group is clear.
“Whether we’re old or young, everybody just links up and comes together to just do our job,” Hayes said. “Whether I’m the young guy or the old guy, or the experienced or inexperienced, just link up, just pass it on to the younger guys and make everybody know what they got to do.
“I definitely feel like this group is closer than last year. We got a lot of young guys, and I feel like us going to Camp T, when the young guys came in, I feel like we’ve been through a lot as well.”
A season ago, fans were excited to see Hayes torch defenses with his speed. While that didn’t quite happen the way he imagined, Gump will soon have the chance to put the clamps down on guys with their own plans to do what he wanted a year ago.
“I’m feeling mentally focused,” Hayes said. “I’m prepared. I feel like we’re all on the same page. I feel like we’ve been preparing for this since the spring time. We all know what we got to do.”