Say the name William Hayes to the average NFL fan and you probably won't get much of a response. The St. Louis Rams defensive end doesn't get a lot of publicity and he doesn't make a lot of noise, at least not with his mouth.
Instead, the man they call "Big Plays" likes to let his game do the talking for him. It's a formula that's worked pretty well over the last decade.
His game started making noise back at High Point (NC) Andrews High, where he helped lead his team to a state title in 2002. Big schools like Clemson and Notre Dame came calling, but grades eventually kept them away.
After a brief stint a tiny Barber-Scotia College, Hayes found his way to Winston-Salem State, a Division II black college. Despite his obvious talent, Hayes didn't become a immediate star at WSSU, as injuries and playing out of position at linebacker kept some of that talent hidden away. Yet by the time Hayes was a senior in 2007, there was little doubt he was a special talent. Hayes recorded a team-high 8.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss to help the Rams record a 6-5 record their second season as a provisional Division I member.
Despite his impressive senior season, Hayes didn't get an invite to the NFL combine, a slight that only fueled his intense determination to make it to the next level.
“I had a chip on my shoulder. I had to go out and prove that I could compete and that I could play just as good as anybody in the nation,” Hayes said.
Hayes used that motivation to run a 4.6 40 yard dash at the Wake Forest Pro Day. That speed, along with highlights from a game against FAMU, helped Hayes become the first WSSU player drafted since Richard Huntley a decade earlier.
The Tennessee Titans selected Hayes in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He would spend four seasons with the team, generating eight sacks in 12 starts. When his number came up in free agency, Hayes joined former Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.
Playing on a one-year deal, Hayes came up with his best season yet, racking up seven sacks despite not starting a game. The Rams would reward him with a three-year deal.
In recent years, Hayes has become increasingly involved at his alma mater, including sponsoring a cookout for current student-athletes. Earlier this year, he was selected to the school's Hall of Fame.
On the field, Hayes has been a valuable contributor for the Rams, starting in seven of the team's first eight games. Hayes was one of the key contributors to the team's upset of the 49ers on Sunday, sacking Colin Kaepernick twice.
Seven seasons into his pro career, William Hayes may not be a name casual fans know, but he's one offensive coordinators and quarterbacks will be keeping an eye on as the season moves forward.
Another talented member of the HBCU Brotherhood.