Justin Pugh will go down as one of Syracuse’s best offensive lineman in program history. As he preps to enter April’s NFL draft, Syracuse has jumped on finding potential replacements for the all-conference stud. After visiting the SU campus this past weekend, offensive guard Alexander Hayes is up for the task, committing to the Orange. The Georgia big man is sold on the program and looking forward to National Signing Day next week. He joins WR Corey Cooper as back-to-back enormous verbals for the Orange heading into NSD.
Scott Shafer and company pluck the 6’3” 285 lb. monster Hayes out of Tucker High School in Atlanta. Hayes was the anchor of an awfully impressive line. It’s fair to say the most important stat to offensive lineman is how well their team’s offense can score. In its run-first offense, Tucker utilized Hayes to his greatest potential. Tucker HS destroyed DeKalb County, rushing for 3,195 yards and 44 touchdowns on the ground. The runner-up in total rushing yards trailed Tucker by 500 yards. Tucker High had five backs that rushed for over 400 yards on the season and averaged over 7.5 yards per carry. Hayes was a big reason why they were so successful.
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The two-star Hayes got his first word from Syracuse last July. His offer sheet consists of East Carolina, Georgia State, Tulane, and UCF. Hayes toured the facilities over the weekend with a majority of the new coaching staff, namely Shafer, new offensive line coach George McDonald, and his main recruiter Rob Moore, the wide receivers coach. After an action-packed weekend, Hayes told The Fizz he has great vibes for the chance of living up On the Hill:
“The overall campus life. I like how the campus is small and the class sizes are small enough, but still big enough for a university feeling.”
A resident of the Peach State, Hayes is enjoying beautiful weather down south, but he’s optimistic about SU’s personnel changes, and actually looking forward to some cooler weather:
“One, I hated the heat. I hate the heat, and two, the new staff. I definitely want to get in and compete against what they call the best. And take this program into the top of the ACC where it belongs.”
It’s always exciting to hear such strong enthusiasm from players you don’t see as vocal and outspoken. Typically, skill players do all the talking and love the attention because they’re putting up the points, while lineman remain silent and go about their business. But Hayes isn’t afraid to speak his mind. McDonald was bugging Hayes through the entire visit in a positive way. Hayes told The Fizz McDonald’s hiring was huge and can’t wait to start working more with him:
“Definitely. He was in my ear the whole visit. He was telling me how we (the new staff) are coming into change it, but basically how we are going to keep it the same. He said Syracuse is the place I know and love, but with different personnel, there’s different ways to win games and score points.”
Syracuse football is certainly on its way after an 8-5 season, and a blowout victory in the Pinstripe Bowl. Even with all the shifts in the coaching staff, the program seems to have picked up some momentum heading into NSD and then the ACC. Hayes made it clear the conference change was huge in choosing Orange:
“I’m overwhelmed with joy. The ACC play is a big, a big part in why I am making my decision. Syracuse football has always been known, but it hasn’t ever been talked about in the top (ranks). Everybody talks about the SEC. Well I think with me and the guys coming in, and the guys that are already here, we can make a big impact and take this program to a new horizon.”
Hayes is already showing belief in his fellow classmates of the 2013 class. Tucker HS mainly ran the ball, and finished last in the conference with 714 passing yards. Hayes’ game consists of playing explosive off the line of scrimmage. But knowing SU’s style, Hayes will be used differently along the line, which he’s fine with:
“I think I can come off the ball and run block extremely well. Coming from an offense where we run the ball 80%, 85%, 89% of the game, I can get under in a three-point stance, get my hands in somebody’s way and just finish them. But at Syracuse I’m going to be doing a little bit of both. I’ve been trained now to work on my kick-step to be a true dog of an offensive lineman. I’ve always heard from my coach, you have to be a dog.”
Hayes intends to be the top dog on Syracuse’s offensive line depth chart. He’s the second o-line commit for the incoming class, joining LA Harbor JuCo commit John Miller. Miller comes in with some experience at the collegiate level, but Hayes says that’s not stopping him to battle with Miller come training camp. Miller does have the leg-up by enrolling early as a junior college player. The chance to possibly start and compete for playing right way intrigued Hayes the most:
“The chance to come in and play in the ACC and start. I have the chance to come in as a true freshman and fight my way to the number one guard position. Seeing the depth chart that they have projected with the new coaching staff so nothing’s really fixed. But what they have in their minds and what they have predicted, I can come in and start. They have a young kid and an old left guard Pugh. He is entering the draft. And the new one, he (Miller) is not. He’s good because he plays for Syracuse football. But I can come in and fight with him, and hopefully take his spot.”
And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper visit to SU without lunch at Dinosaur BBQ. Shafer and the rest of the staff treated Hayes to a delicious Dinosaur meal:
“As an O-lineman, that BBQ was goooooood, it was goooood man.”
It was only fitting to include a mean BBQ dinner for the big man Hayes. His commitment along with Cooper’s decision to go with Syracuse makes it 17 commits for the program. Can Hayes be that four-year solution to fill the offensive guard void now that Pugh is on his way out? Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley have to be loving this addition as they look to work together again next year and maintain a star-studded backfield. SU certainly needs someone to step up on the line, and Hayes seems to be up for the challenge.
Posted: Brendan Glasheen