COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — From almost the moment they met, running back Chase Hayden hit it off with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.
Hayden — who signed with the Razorbacks more than 2 months ago — remembers the introduction clearly. He walked into Bielema’s office during a visit to the Arkansas spring game almost a year ago and saw the head Hog sitting behind his desk wearing a T-shirt and flip-flops.
“I just clicked with him,” Hayden told SEC Country during an exclusive interview in his family’s living room. “He’s just sitting there laid back. He’s an outgoing, genuine guy. You can tell he doesn’t have an ego and it’s not all about him. He just loves his job.
“At other places, you have to talk to 10 different people or you have to schedule an appointment to talk to the head coach. It’s none of that stuff with Coach B.”
That relationship — along with the others he formed at Arkansas — is a big reason why he committed to be a Razorback last summer. It’s also the biggest reason why Hayden canceled a planned official visit to Michigan in early October 2016.
As a general rule, Bielema does not allow players who have committed to take official visits elsewhere. If a committed player does take an official to a different school, Bielema and the staff consider that scholarship slot re-opened.
Hayden said that in late September/early October, he was still planning to take all 5 of his official visits, including one to Michigan the weekend of Oct. 8.
“Michigan would DM me or call me up probably about once a month,” Hayden recalled. “I was gonna take a visit. But when it came down to it, I just thought about all that Arkansas had done for me and how they made me a priority, and how when I went up there I fell in love with it.
“I wasn’t really willing to risk that just to go on a Michigan visit, especially when I felt like Michigan was just trying to fill a spot rather than making me a priority.”
Around that time, there was a good deal of public confusion about whether Hayden had de-committed or not. Some reports indicated that he had de-committed, but Hayden said Thursday that was never the case.
Hayden played high school football at St. George’s Independent School in Germantown, Tenn., rushing for 7,000 yards and 92 touchdowns during his career there. According to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, Hayden was the No. 4 all-purpose back in the 2017 recruiting class.
His father, Aaron, played running back at Tennessee from 1991 through 1994, then played 4 NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Phildelphia Eagles.
Here are a few other items of note from SEC Country’s interview with Chase Hayden.
Mizzou was hard to turn down
Hayden’s final 3 schools before he committed last summer were Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma State. He said that calling Mizzou coaches and telling them he wasn’t coming was very hard.
“I felt like they did everything they possibly could,” Hayden said. “When I went on visits, they rolled out the red carpet for me. It was kinda sad, actually, because Coach (Barry) Odom would call me almost every day. The offensive coordinator would call me almost every other day. The running backs coach would too. I felt like they showed a lot of time and effort.”
Hayden also said he enjoyed a strong relationship with South Carolina running backs coach Bobby Bentley. Hayden added that even after he committed to Arkansas, Bentley continued to reach out with encouraging words.
“It wasn’t like he was still trying to get me to switch,” Hayden said. “Some coaches, you just really connect with. You can really tell with some of them that they care about you.”
Bielema’s RB history was attractive
Hayden said that when he began researching Arkansas, he was impressed by Bielema’s track record with running backs. Bielema has had at least one 1,000-yard rusher in each of his 11 seasons as a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas.
“He’s had all different types of running backs,” Hayden said. “He’s had power running backs, speed guys, big-play running backs. And a 1,000-yard rusher every year.”
Hayden said that out of all of Bielema’s former running backs, he identifies most closely with Melvin Gordon. Bielema recruited Gordon to Wisconsin, although Gordon’s 2 best seasons came after Bielema left for Arkansas. Gordon rushed for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns during his senior season in 2014.
“When Coach B talked to me, he said I kinda reminded him of Melvin Gordon,” Hayden said. “I remember when I first saw him playing at Wisconsin, I really liked his running style. He could just do so much.”
A little advice
Asked what advice he would give to future college football recruits, Hayden said he would tell them to really take notice of which coaches make them a priority.
“You really want to find out and take notice of which coaches are calling you every single week during the live period,” Hayden said. “You should definitely pay attention to who makes you a priority, who invites you to all their junior days, who devotes time to you when you’re on a visit, who lets you meet everybody.
“When I was at Arkansas, I spent a whole day with them. I think I met everybody in the Arkansas athletic department. You have to really find out who wants you and who makes you a priority.”