Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi spoke to members of the media ahead of Pitt’s fifth preseason practice session on Wednesday, and he had some high praise for second-year defensive end Dayon Hayes.
“Dayon is getting after it,” Narduzzi said. “Dayon had a good day yesterday, and it continued throughout the day pretty much. He’s just growing up. He’s so much smarter than he was. And that’s when things start to click, when you start to feel like you know what you’re doing mentally. And all of a sudden you can play faster. Dayon, if he continues to do what he’s doing, he’s going to be really, really good.”
Last season, Hayes saw limited action as a freshman, but he still managed to come up with one forced fumble and three tackles, including 2.5 sacks, in five games. That included an impressive two-sack showing against Austin Peay in his Pitt debut. Now, he’s looking to climb the depth chart and earn playing time on a deep defensive line by showing what he can do in camp.
“I’m trying to be consistent every day,” Hayes told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m watching film [and thinking about] how can I get my hand placement better. Because I’m young, so I’ve got to basically be on the mental level where John [Morgan] and [Habakkuk Baldonado] are at. So I’ve got to get the extra reps, get the extra film in so I can be like them because they’re in good positions right now.”
Much is expected of the 6’3”, 260-pound defensive lineman, as he amassed 23.5 sacks as a senior at Westinghouse High School in the City League back in 2019. The year before that, Hayes had 26 sacks for the Bulldogs as a junior. And as a result of his performance, he earned four-star ratings from Rivals and 247Sports and drew offers from elite programs across the country, including Ohio State and Texas A&M. But Hayes chose to stay home.
When asked about his decision to stay in Pittsburgh despite the attention of coaching staffs across the country, Hayes said that he believed he would have a greater chance at making an impact in his hometown.
“Why not help change the program? Why not help us become a top school?” Hayes said. “I looked at it like if I go somewhere else, I’m just a number. But if I’m here, I can help us become a top contender in the ACC.”
One year into his college career at Pitt, the Pittsburgh native has consistently distinguished himself through his showings on the practice field and in game action on Saturdays. And if he can continue to impress Narduzzi and the Pitt staff, he may well secure a larger role by the start of the 2021 season.