DeKALB – As the only Sycamore player on the Northern Illinois University football team, Marckie Hayes is in a unique position in more ways than one. Although he was a star running back for the Sycamore Spartans in high school, Hayes now plays cornerback for the Huskies.
“I was 50-50 about playing offense or defense,” he said, noting the coaches decided. “I’ve been on defense the whole time (in college).”
As a defender, he lines up every day in practice against NIU quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch.
“I love the fact I get to go up against him every single day,” Hayes said. “He makes me and the whole defense better. ...You have to bring your A game every single day.”
Since red-shirting his freshman year, Hayes has played in every game for the Huskies the last two seasons, mainly on special teams. His best game was against Army, when he recorded four tackles.
Hayes rushed for 1,792 yards and scored 17 touchdowns his senior year for the Sycamore Spartans. Among many honors, he was first team Illinois High School Football Coaches 5A all-state team, the Western Conference Offensive Most Valuable Player and the 2009 Daily Chronicle Player of the Year .
Hayes, who was named to the Academic All-State Team, is majoring in industrial and systems engineering.
The Orange Bowl, Lynch and the upcoming NIU season were among the topics he discussed with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson last week.
MidWeek: So what’s it like being a hometown player on the the Huskies?
Marckie Hayes: It’s definitely a blessing. I grew up watching the Huskies my whole life. Ever since I put on a helmet, I wanted to wear the black and red. I love being a part of it and doing my part to take us even further.
MW: What was last season like? It started out normal and just went wild.
MH: Last season, it got crazier and crazier as it went on. It was like any season; we had to put the work in. We regrouped after we didn’t get that (opening game) win against Iowa. We knew if we kept doing what we were doing we were going to get national recognition.
MW: Was it tough to come so close to beating a school like Iowa and then losing by one point in the final minute?
MH: It was disappointing, yes, but like anything you have to learn from any situation you’re put in. Obviously, we wanted to get that win – every win is important – but it made us look at who we were as a team. You have to be able to take what you can from it.
MW: Then there was the Orange Bowl.
MH: Obviously the result of the Orange Bowl wasn’t what we wanted.
MW: Can anything compare to the Orange Bowl?
MH: In my own personal life, I would say no, except for maybe my first game as a Huskie. Between those two moments, I have never been more ecstatic and proud. It was huge, definitely the biggest one of my life.
MW: Weren’t you on the field for the first play?
MH: I was on the first kickoff return. All the flashing lights and everyone yelling and screaming, I was dumbstruck. When I was on that play, I was just focusing on what I had to do. When I was running off the field, it was like, ‘Wow I was a part of that.’
Once I realized (what was going on), I was pretty amped.
MW: Was it hard playing in front of that big a crowd?
MH: The crowd noises never faze me. I am so focused in on the game I almost forget there are people watching the game.
Any player can feed off of that noise, but a little negativity from opposing fans can drive you. It’s just the nature of the game.
MW: Now that practice has started up, how’s it feel to finally get back on the field?
MH: It feels good to put the pads back on. It’s a long off-season. It’s been awhile since Jan. 1.
MW: Is it hard to keep in shape that long?
MH: We have a great athletic training staff. They do a great job of keeping everyone in the best shape you could possibly be in.
MW: You’ve played special teams the last two years. Do you figure to play cornerback this season?
MH: There are still a lot of things up in the air. I don’t want to assume anything. Until that first game, you never know. Whatever my role is at the start of the season, I’ll take pride in that. You never know who shows up.
MW: I know you’ve just started, but has there been a big transition getting used to the new coaches?
MH: I wouldn’t say any trouble, no. We still have the same defensive coordinator (Jay Niemann). And we have a feeling of what Coach (Rod) Carey was going to do. You just have to come in with an open mind.
MW: As a defensive player, what’s it like facing Lynch in practice every day?
MH: With the caliber of player he is, it gets you right, that’s for sure. I love the fact I get to go up against him every single day. He makes me and the whole defense better. We strive to be better. You have to bring your A game every single day.
MW: I know he says the only time he thinks about the Heisman is when the media asks him about it, but has all the talk been distracting for the team?
MH: I wouldn’t say it distracts the team at all. Jordan is just like every other guy on the team, and he acts like that. I had breakfast with him a couple of weeks ago.
MW: Any goals for this season?
MH: You always want to strive to be better than we came from. Ultimately we are putting the work in to get better. We know if we prepare in practice, then we can do great things. It’s all about the work we put in.
MW: Any fallout from the Orange Bowl loss?
MH: With that loss it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It drove us in the off-season to work harder. We came that close, but we came up short. It’s that extra effort you give on that wind sprint. It is using that as motivation and drive for the upcoming season.