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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Hayden triumphs after tragedy

UH defensive back D.J. Hayden is the second highest draft pick in Conference USA history. | File photo/The Daily Cougar

UH defensive back D.J. Hayden is the second highest draft pick in Conference USA history. | File photo/The Daily Cougar

When head coach Tony Levine saw D.J. Hayden run the 40-yard dash at the UH pro day, it was an emotional moment. Levine was brought to tears because of how far Hayden came in five months.

Hayden went from near death after a collision in practice tore the main valve that carries blood to the heart to running the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, which solidified his draft status.

“When he passed the the 10-yard mark, it was clear that he was running faster than he ever had. When he crossed the 40-yard mark, I knew he had run a really good time,” Levine said. “He’s an inspiration to everyone on the team. That includes players, coaches — everyone.”

Now, Hayden has a chance give NFL offensive coordinators emotional fits with his blend of size and speed. He was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the 12th pick of the NFL Draft.

At pro day, Hayden said he would be happy for any opportunity given to him.

“It’s something that i’ve been trying to do since I was a kid. I’ve watched the draft every year since I was in like fourth grade,” Hayden said. “So for that to happen to me, it’s just a blessing to be named.”

After being selected by the Raiders, Hayden said he was ready to get back on the field.

“I came a long way. For me to be here right now is just a blessing. I’m just happy to have the opportunity to accomplish some of my goals. I’m truly thankful,” Hayden said to the Houston Chronicle after learning where he would be drafted.

Hayden is the 12th first-round pick in Houston history and the first ever UH defensive back to be selected in the first round. Hayden is the first UH player to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since running back Antowain Smith was selected 23rd overall by the Buffalo Bills. He is the highest UH draft pick since quarterback David Klinger was selected sixth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992.

Hayden lost nearly 30 pounds after the injury and at times thought he would be without football, too. Becoming the second defensive back taken off the board seemed impossible.

Hayden doesn’t have to survive another injury that kills 95 percent of those who receive it, he can just play football again.

“I can’t wait to put on that black and silver,” he said. “When I get up there I’m ready to play.”

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