Sept. 12, 2012
Life is full of peaks and valleys. One second a person could be on top of the world, and the next they find themselves at rock bottom. The way an individual responds to the adversity of life knocking them down can go a long way to define them as a person.
For senior cornerback D.J. Hayden one of his biggest valleys came during his senior year in high school. Because of some unforeseen circumstances, Hayden was forced to miss out on a year of doing something he loves: playing football.
Heading into his junior year Hayden's family made the decision for him to transfer to a private school. When Hayden tried to transfer back to Elkins High School a year later most of his credits did not transfer due to a rule at the private school.
"After I ended up going back I couldn't get any of my credits to transfer." Hayden said. "So my senior year I couldn't really play football."
Hayden spent his entire senior season on the scout team, at Elkins, playing in just one game. From there Hayden went to play at Southeast Prep, a team designed for players who are still working on school issues but also have dreams of playing football at the next level.
"It was rough." Hayden said. "We didn't have a locker room or a practice field or anything like that. Just us and the coaches. It was a real grind."
Hayden shined at Southeast Prep and caught the attention of a few junior college coaches. Because of NCAA rules, Hayden would have to put his dreams of playing Division I football on hold a little longer.
"All I've ever talked about was playing Division I football," Hayden said. "But from that whole experience I learned I just had to take care of business and get my priorities straight first."
Hayden did just that. After two years at Navarro Junior College, D.J. finally got the offer he was looking for from the University of Houston. When he took the field against UCLA last season, he did so for the first time as a Division I athlete.
"When I first took the field I thought there were a lot of people out there." Hayden said. "I had never played in front of a crowd like that. I saw all those people cheering and I knew I had finally made it to Division I."
The 2011 season for D.J. Hayden was a peak in his life. The Cougars enjoyed their best season in school history and the defense went a long way in changing the general opinion that the University of Houston is only an offensive team. Hayden went on to be named C-USA Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Hayden hopes to see that peak continue into the 2012 season, where the defense will be challenged with taking on even more responsibilities for the team.
"We have to always be on our A-game." Hayden said of the defense. "We may have to determine who wins a game this year. We have a bigger role to fill and we need to step up and do our part."
Hayden and the rest of the defensive backs know they are prepared for whatever new tasks that may be thrown their way this season.
"We are like brothers back there," Hayden said. "We don't have to talk to know what each other is thinking. We know we want to be as close to perfect this year as possible."
Feature story taken from the second issue of the Houston Football Game Program (Sept. 8, 2012 vs. Louisiana Tech).