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July 30, 2010
Like the fiercest of linebackers, the recruiting process can alter a running back's direction. For Justice Hayes, that meant announcing his college destination much earlier than planned.
Hayes, who had hoped to take his official visits before selecting a college, verbally committed to Notre Dame on Friday during a press conference at Grand Blanc High School. A trip to South Bend with his grandparents in mid-July helped push that timetable forward.
"Basically I told (the Irish coaching staff) when I went down that I was ready, that this is the school I wanted to go to but I wasn't going to make it public until my press conference," Hayes said. "I just felt like it was the right fit for me."
The decision to commit to Notre Dame didn't come easy. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound tailback from Grand Blanc, Mich., carries a 3.0 grade point average, but he wasn't sure if the academic demands at Notre Dame fit what he wanted in a college experience.
That return trip to Notre Dame two weeks ago put Hayes' outlook back on track.
"I used to be a knucklehead. I matured a lot and learned a lot of things. I've seen a lot of things and now I just know what not to do," he said. "I knew I wanted an education but I was fumbling between education and having fun, but ultimately I wanted to take on that challenge of getting a great education and setting myself up for the future."
The commitment lets Hayes stop the constant phone calls from media. College coaches were prepared to ramp up contact with the Rivals100 prospect as well.
"When I hit Notre Dame it just felt right when I was there and from there I was ready to end it," he said. "I was getting tired of the media, and coaches are not even allowed to call me yet and I'm still already tired of it. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it when all the coaches can call me so I was like, let me hang this up, no need for me to stall it and wait, let's just get it over with now."
Announcing his college decision before his senior season allows Hayes to focus on closing out his high school career in style. It also ensures he'll have a shot at a top-notch education and a chance to play for one of college football's premier programs.
"I was on a roller coaster and when I found the place where I need to be at the roller coaster finally came to a stop," he said. "It's the academics and the guarantee of a successful career that comes out of Notre Dame. I'm not just thinking about right now and those four years, I'm thinking about after football if I'm not able to go to the NFL. I want to be able to fall back on a great job to support my family."
Also weighing on Hayes' decision was the fact he'd have an easy transition into Notre Dame's offense. After seeing Brian Kelly's wide-open attack in action during the Irish spring game, Hayes knew he'd be a perfect fit.
"We run the same exact offense (at Grand Blanc)," he said. "I watched some of their spring game and saw the same stuff we do at high school. The same things I perfect now I can do at Notre Dame."
And Hayes isn't shy about his skills.
"It's safe to say I have the best hands in high school. I actually put that on Facebook that I have a great pair of hands," he said. "I can do a lot of things with my body too and that's going to help me out when I step on campus."
As confident as he is in his abilities, Hayes knows he has plenty of work to do before he represents the Irish on fall Saturdays. In fact, he's heard whispers that he's not as fast as some of the nation's other top running backs. He's working hard to change those opinions.
"I may not be the fastest kid but I'm fast and I'm working on it," he said. "I've been hearing those doubters saying, 'oh, he's not that fast.' That hurts. It hurts. I've been working a lot."
Hayes has enlisted the help of a professional speed coach to teach him proper running technique and he's already noticed a difference.
"I haven't been running the right way. I was never shown how to run," he said. "I ran funny because I didn't get my knees up and that's what (the trainer) said. He said to get the knees up and I'd be faster. Don't be surprised if I'm a little faster this year."
In his last 20 games at Grand Blanc, Hayes has rushed 338 times for 2,417 yards (7.2 average) and 22 touchdowns. He also has caught 41 passes for 447 yards.
Hayes is the 13th verbal commitment in Notre Dame's recruiting class and the third Top 100 prospect to come aboard.