How Dallan Hayden emerged as Ohio State's top running back target in 2022 recruiting class
The signs pointed to a breakout season for running back Dallan Hayden last summer.
As the varsity team at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tennessee, held its second padded preseason practice, he lined up in a live period against the first-team defense and kept finding the end zone.
It happened on each of his first three carries, recalled Thomas McDaniel, the Purple Wave’s coach.
“As frustrating as it was for me to watch our defense get ripped apart,” McDaniel said, “it was equally as satisfying to know that we could give it to someone who could take it to the house. I knew right away he was going to be really special.”
Over nine games, Hayden rushed for 2,010 yards and 24 touchdowns and his recruitment swelled, adding a string of scholarship offers.
The process ended Tuesday as he committed to Ohio State in the aftermath of his official visit, giving the Buckeyes a running back in their 2022 recruiting class.
How Dallan Hayden went from a lower profile prospect in Tennessee to Mr. Football
Before the prolific stretch, Hayden held a lower profile as a prospect. Opportunities were a little more limited.
He began his high school career in the secondary, starting at cornerback as a freshman. Rather than log carries as a running back on the junior varsity or freshman teams, he sought to make an impact on varsity.
“His freshman year, it was just all about. 'I want to get on the field and have a chance to play,' ” McDaniel said.
McDaniel thought Hayden was physical enough as a defensive back that he might develop into a promising safety prospect, and Hayden received his first college scholarship offers as an "athlete."
But he seemed destined to end up at running back, the position his father, Aaron, played at Tennessee, and his older brother, Chase, at Arkansas and East Carolina before transferring to Illinois in January.
Hayden picked up some carries as a sophomore backing up Al Wooten, a senior bound for Mercer, a program in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“When he started to get some touches at running back, it was just obvious that he was more natural as a running back than he was as a DB,” McDaniel said. “He's got a knack for it. He's got great vision. He's got great awareness of where he needs to be, where the hole is. It's just natural for him.”
In his sophomore season in 2019, Hayden ran 81 times for 466 yards and four touchdowns.
During a shutdown at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Hayden kept working in hopes of a big junior season and a larger role in the backfield.
Team activities were not held, but he could train with his father, also the running backs coach at Christian Brothers, furthering his development.
“I knew he got stronger,” McDaniel said. “I knew he got faster, and I knew he got bigger.”
When he was a freshman, Hayden was just shy of 170 pounds. Now, he is around 200 pounds, with added muscle that has elevated him.
McDaniel thought the strength brought out more of his physical nature.
“I really think that his ability to run through contact and get extra yards after contact are probably some of his strongest suits,” McDaniel said. “He does have breakaway speed when he needs to, he is elusive from the standpoint that he can make you miss in the open space, but I do believe that his power and strength are his No. 1 attributes. He's a workhorse.”
The top running back recruit for the Buckeyes
Almost two dozen running backs are still ranked higher in the 2022 recruiting class than Hayden, a four-star who is listed as the 24th-best at the position in the composite rankings compiled by 247Sports.
But McDaniel noted some schools see him as a more valuable prospect. Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford told him that Hayden was the top running back on the Buckeyes’ recruiting board.
“If somebody that's done it for as long as he has, that's as good at what he does, if he says he's our No. 1 guy, then he must be pretty darn good,” McDaniel said.
He expects that Alford saw a lot of the same physical traits, such as his vision and strength, that were on display last fall.
Christian Brothers participates in the second- and third-highest high school football divisions in Tennessee, demanding Hayden to be a well-balanced runner.
“A lot of times when you have elite-level guys like that in the high school level, it's as simple as just call sweep, let him run outside and then just go out and circle the defense,” McDaniel said. “You can't do that in our league. We play against very good competition and Dallan can get the yards when he needs to get the yards.”