The 90 Illini #39: Chase Hayden
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If there's a position that has depth, it's running back. With Mike Epstein coming back and Chase Hayden transferring in, there are now four tailbacks who have been in a college tailback rotation in the past - Chase Brown, Mike Epstein, Chase Hayden (at Arkansas and East Carolina), and Jakari Norwood. Reggie Love is the highest rated recruit of all of them, and he's a second-year player now, so he'll probably start to get carries. And then there's also Nick Fedanzo and incoming freshman Josh McCray.
So Chase Hayden enters an interesting scenario. The coach who recruited him to Arkansas was fired, the coach who replaced him only lasted two seasons, he transferred to East Carolina but only lasted three games, and now he rejoins that coach who recruited him to Arkansas in Champaign. He's now Bret Bielema's guy joining a stable of Lovie Smith's guys. Will that benefit him? Or is it going to be a tough rotation to crack with last year's top two tailbacks returning?
39. Chase Hayden
Uniform number: 22
Year in school: Junior (without the Covid waiver, 1 year to play 1; with the Covid waiver, technically 2 years to play 2)
Height: 5'-10" -- Weight: 205 lbs.
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
Former School: East Carolina via Arkansas
Five best offers: Michigan, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas
Tom Cruise rating:
2020 statistics: Played in 3 games at ECU - 16 carries for 62 yards.
I covered most of this above already. I need to stop doing that. I guess I can just go through the whole thing.
His dad is a legend at Tennessee. And he considered Tennessee (and Illinois) in 2016 when he was being recruited. But he chose Bielema at Arkansas. As a freshman at Arkansas in 2017 (Bielema's final year), he has 120 rushing yards in his very first game and is named SEC Freshman of the Week. He was Arkansas' leading rusher through six games, but then he breaks his leg and is out for the season. At the end of that season, Bielema is fired.
Hayden sticks around for two more years at Arkansas (the two years of the Chad Morris era), but he loses the starting job to the juco transfer Morris brought in. His junior year, after four games, Hayden announces he's transferring and shuts it down for the season to preserve a redshirt. Morris is then fired after that season.
Hayden transfers to East Carolina. He has 16 carries for 62 yards but only plays in the first three games and then two freshman pass him on the depth chart. After the season (a season that didn't count towards eligibility because of Covid), he announces another transfer. And he lands at Illinois. Back with Bielema.
Because of the 2019 redshirt at Arkansas (and the fact that 2020 didn't count), he still has two years to play two. So while there's no guarantee that he'll return (the coaches would have to invite him back, and roster spots will be scarce next season), he has the eligibility to play two more years of college football.
The question then becomes how the new staff hands out carries. Chase Brown is the feature back and he gets a Robert Holcombe number of carries? Four Horsemen Of The Bretpocalypse and Brown, Epstein, Hayden, and Love all get carries? The Chase & Chase show? A healthy Epstein takes the ball and doesn't look back?
I've already said I'm going to call Chase Brown "Wild Goose" (he's Canadian, wild goose chase - you get it), so I still need to figure out one Hayden if it's the Chase & Chase show. Someone suggested Cut To The Chase but that gets clunky. Wild Goose Chase and... Steeple Chase?
I'll keep working on it.