When Chase Hayden turns on old video of his father playing football for the Vols, he sees himself. However, it’s not his father that comes to mind, but rather his old backfield mate.
“I feel like I probably run more like Charlie Garner,” the running back from St. George’s Independent (Collierville, Tenn.) told SEC Country.
Hayden’s father, Aaron Hayden, was part of a trio of tough tailbacks to suit up for Tennessee in the early ’90’s. All would go on to play in the NFL.
At Tennessee, it was impossible to know if Aaron, Garner or James “Little Man” Stewart would lead the way on any given Saturday. But when it comes to comparisons to his son, Aaron agreed that Chase was actually more like Garner than his father.
“I think his ability to accelerate, his ability to change directions and the way he hits the hole,” Aaron said. “The thing I learned from Charlie is he was always running the ball at full speed. He just always assumed the hole was there, so when it did open he was already full speed and through it. That’s the same kind of thing I see in Chase’s ability.”
Chase, a three-star 2017 prospect who is planning to visit Tennessee this weekend if his basketball schedule allows, also sees the similarities.
“I’m a playmaker,” he said. “I have good vision, good acceleration and really good feet. I feel like I can always make the first man miss.”
That was certainly Garner’s style, and recruiters have taken notice. Hayden has picked up four scholarship offers in the last two months, from Purdue, Arizona and Mississippi State and South Carolina. He already held offers from Michigan, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Louisville.
Hayden said he rushed for, 2,651 yards last season and 32 rushing touchdowns as a high school junior. When it comes to college, he said he’s looking for a good fit athletically and academically, as well the opportunity to play. The Vols should certainly have that soon.
Tennessee’s primary tailbacks, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, will be headed into their junior seasons. If things go well for both, they could possibly make an early departure to the NFL. Kamara considered the move following last season. Even if not, they would have only one year of eligibility remaining following this season.
“I’m very familiar with Tennessee,” the younger Hayden said. “I really like the atmosphere and everything about Tennessee. I like the facilities and the fan base. That’s probably my two favorite things.”
Hayden said his father’s legacy is a small factor in his recruitment, but he’ll ultimately make the best decision for his career. However, he also said Tennessee’s overall running back history would be a factor in his decision.
“That means a lot, just tradition,” he said. “They’ve had a lot of great running backs they’ve put in the NFL. That’s definitely big and very impressive.”
As for Aaron Hayden’s thoughts on Tennessee, he’d be ready for his son to sign immediately if Phillip Fulmer were still the head coach.
“It’s weird to be honest,” he said. “Of course I bleed orange and (Chase) grew up bleeding orange all his life, and if coach Fulmer was still the coach there, it would be a no-brainer for me, but I’m kind of outside the program because I don’t know Butch Jones.
“I’m a big fan of Butch Jones and the staff but I really don’t know those guys.”
Fortunately for the Vols, the Haydens have plenty of time to get to know Jones and his staff. It should help Tennessee that the Haydens already know the program well thanks to frequent visits.
“He probably knows more about the program than some of the coaches on that staff,” Aaron Hayden jokingly said, referring to his son. “It’s a little weird, but I’m definitely happy that Tennessee is looking at them.”
There have been some questions about Chase’s size. He’s currently listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds. That pales in comparison to Hurd, who is 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. But Aaron doesn’t think that will be a problem. He said he was Chase’s size when he arrived at Tennessee and that his son doesn’t even turn 17 until April.
“He still has a lot of growing left if you just look at his genetics,” said Aaron, who added that his son squatted 475 pounds and bench pressed 265 pounds last summer. “I think he’ll get significantly bigger.”
Basketball has also been a factor. It’s hard to hit the weight room and add mass during the season. Hayden figures his son will add at least ten pounds soon after his basketball season is complete.
“It’s funny that people call Chase a small back…Chase is actually bigger than I was (at the same age),” Aaron said.
Just because Chase may be Garner-like doesn’t mean he can’t show off the power his father used to. Chase also takes pride in being physical.
“A lot of people say I’m an elusive back and I just make people miss but I feel like I can be physical too if it’s needed and run over somebody when it’s there,” he said.
Most don’t know that Aaron, who is originally from Detroit, Mich., was actually committed to Notre Dame before taking a trip to Tennessee to see the Vols host the Fighting Irish in Neyland Stadium in 1990. The Vols lost the game but won Aaron’s heart.
“That SEC atmosphere made me want to come back,” Aaron said.
That atmosphere is still there. Now it’s up to Jones and his coaching staff to convince the Haydens that Knoxville is still home.