Hayes Pullard was a four-year staring linebacker at the University of Southern California and led the team in tackles as a junior and a senior.
He arrived at USC in the summer of 2010 and was recruited by then-Head Coach Pete Carroll. But Carroll never coached him in college because he soon bolted for the Seattle Seahawks. Pullard walked into a program in turmoil as NCAA sanctions had banned the Trojans from bowl and conference championship games for two years.
He tied for the team lead with 81 tackles and forced two fumbles as a redshirt freshman in 2011, when USC finished 10-2 and finished ranked #6 in the Final AP poll. As a sophomore, he led the squad with 55 solo tackles, was second in total tackles, while tallying 107, and returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown. But the season was huge disappointment. The Trojans began the year as the nation’s top-ranked team, but limped to a 7-6 finish.
In 2013, Head Coach Lane Kiffin was fired after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State in the fifth game of the season, which dropped them to 3-2. The team rallied under interim coach Ed Orgeron to finish the year with seven wins and two losses down the stretch, and Pullard once again was a tackling machine, leading the squad in both solo and total takedowns.
This past season, under new coach Steve Sarkisian, Pullard showed that he could defend the pass as well, while accumulating the team’s highest total for a player who did not play in the secondary. Again, he led the way with a team leading total of 95 tackles.
To say that the past few years on the football field have been tumultuous would be an understatement, but Pullard never took the easy way out by looking to transfer to a school with more stability. That is, more than likely, a byproduct of his upbringing in the jagged Inglewood area.
By nature of his own life experiences, he learned that you work harder through rough times and lead by example, as he had to do in the wake of his father’s sudden death when he was attending Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.
His leadership, consistency and dependability on the defensive side of the ball is commendable, given that he’s played for three different defensive coordinators and four separate position coaches during his college career.
Projected to be picked anywhere from the fourth to the sixth round in this weekend’s NFL Draft, Pullard is out to prove that he can bring that same calmness in the face of turmoil, maturity and reliability to a pro franchise.
He’s already graduated from Southern Cal with a degree in policy, planning and development. Given his personal makeup, it seems that his future outside of football holds promise. But Pullard is ready to chase his athletic dreams first.
NFL scouts like his ability to lead others in ways that are positive and constructive. They also find that his patience, as a young man and as a linebacker amidst the on-field chaos, is an attribute that will benefit a defense. He’s already proven that he’s a proficient tackler, and pro coaches think he possesses solid ball skills in man coverage.