COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — When he was in grade school, Chase Hayden accompanied his dad to Neyland Stadium. The Tennessee football program was honoring past greats — among them, former Volunteers running back Aaron Hayden.
Chase stood on the field in awe as the public address announcer called out his dad’s name to 100,000-plus adoring fans. Then an Aaron Hayden highlight video played on the Jumbotron.
For many years, Chase assumed he would play in that same stadium. After all, his Volunteer connections don’t end with dad. His mother, ChaToya, was a Tennessee cheerleader.
Then, the Volunteers became the first college football program to extend Chase a scholarship offer.
“That’s where I always thought I’d end up,” Chase said. “But my dad said I needed to find the best place for me and a place where I wanted to leave a legacy.
“That’s what I found with Arkansas.”
Following an incredible prep career at St. George’s Independent School (Germantown, Tenn.) Chase signed with Arkansas and will officially join the Razorbacks this summer.
Hero of a Tennessee miracle
Throughout his Tennessee career, Aaron Hayden shared the backfield with James “Little Man” Stewart and Charlie Garner. Aaron rushed for 2,061 yards and scored 14 total touchdowns between 1991 and 1994.
One of Aaron’s most memorable performances as a Volunteer came on Nov. 9, 1991, a game that became known as the “Miracle at South Bend.” Notre Dame led Tennessee 31-7 in the second quarter before the Vols stormed back in the second half.
Aaron — then a freshman — scored Tennessee’s final 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 35-34 victory over the No. 5-ranked Fighting Irish.
After his college career, he played 4 NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Aaron admitted that if Phillip Fulmer — his coach at Tennessee — was still coaching the Volunteers, he might have nudged Chase in that direction.
“I wish the program well, but I don’t really have a relationship with those guys, so it’s a little easier,” Aaron said of Butch Jones and his staff. “Plus it’s my son. I love the University of Tennessee, but I love my son a lot more. I wanted him to go where he wanted to go.”
‘We can still love Tennessee’
Chase considered Tennessee an option for several months, but by the time he had trimmed his list of schools to 3, UT wasn’t one of them.
Despite Chase’s decision to forge his own path, his parents will continue to support their alma mater — unless, of course, the Vols are playing the Hogs. Aaron’s Twitter handle remains @Ran4UT.
ChaToya laughed as she recalled a recent conversation with her youngest son — 6-year old Cullen Hayden.
Confused after his big brother’s commitment to Arkansas, Cullen asked his mom what he should do with all his Tennessee apparel.
She told him, “We can still love Tennessee, but we have to support Chase with Arkansas.”