Dad treats son’s growth as business
The 19th in a series profiling newcomers to the Arkansas Razorbacks football team.
When Chase Hayden was a young man, he wanted to grow up to be like an Arkansas Razorback.
Hayden was in Fayetteville while playing basketball as a 7-year-old, and his family stopped by the Hog Heaven store at Walton Arena.
“That’s when Darren McFadden was the man, and Chase was a huge Darren McFadden fan,” said Chase’s father, Aaron Hayden. “We bought this life-size poster, and it was a growth chart. Chase had that growth chart on his bedroom wall his whole life, and as he grew we would mark it off never thinking he would end up as a running back at the University of Arkansas.”
Now a freshman, Chase Hayden is preparing to carry the ball on the same field McFadden called home a decade ago.
Chase Hayden, 5-11, 191 pounds, of Collierville (Tenn.) St. George’s Independent School, chose the Hogs over scholarship offers from Oklahoma State, Missouri, Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Louisville and others.
Aaron Hayden started to prepare his son physically, mentally and emotionally for this level at an early age.
The elder Hayden was a running back for the Tennessee Volunteers from 1991-1994 and was a fourth-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 1995. He played two seasons for the Chargers and one each with Green Bay and Philadelphia.
It was all business for Aaron as he coached and trained his son.
“I wouldn’t really want to pat him on his back a lot, and parents thought I was crazy — like a Serena Williams daddy,” Aaron Hayden said. “People would kind of act like that, but I’ve always been serious and I think over the years Chase has grown to understand it and appreciate and love it now. But early on it was tough.
“We got up on Saturdays and would go run hills at the park. We pretty much did something every day or at least three or four days a week. I always wanted the game to be easier than the workouts we did. He’s been doing it since he was 5, 6 years old.”
The younger Hayden took the workouts in stride even in the early years.
“I just looked at it as something that was fun,” he said.
He’s bringing a mental toughness and businesslike approach to football to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
“I’m not going to give up,” Chase Hayden said. “I’m not going to quit when times get hard. I feel like that’s when I rise to the occasion or I get better. I prove myself. I know there’s going to be some adversity.”
As a junior, Hayden was named Mr. Football after rushing for 2,625 yards and 37 touchdowns. He was also named Mr. Basketball for Class 2A as a junior and senior. Hayden had 160 carries for 1,917 yards and 27 touchdowns, and 12 receptions for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns as a senior.
Aaron Hayden constructed a 30-by-20-foot sandpit near the woods of St. George’s.
“We usually hit that once a week or probably twice a week during the summer, and I think that has a lot to do with his quickness, his explosion and his acceleration,” Aaron Hayden said.
Aaron Hayden also made his son run the 400-meter dash as a youngster.
“Long story short, I just felt like track or something that you do individually that you can’t blame anything on anyone else except yourself teaches you how to be a great teammate and be mentally tough,” Aaron Hayden said.
Before high school, Chase Hayden competed against older middle-distance runners — including Carlton Orange of Arkansas and Terrell Jackson of Clemson — and set a county record for his age group.
“He was hanging with those two, and he ended up breaking the record in the 400 and he hated it,” Aaron Hayden said.
Chase Hayden reluctantly ran the 400 until the eighth grade, when his father allowed him to decide whether or not to run the race. The younger Hayden admits his father was right in pushing him to run the 400.
“I probably should’ve kept doing it, but that really helped me a lot with mental toughness because you have to be mentally tough to run that race,” Chase Hayden said. “That taught me hard work and believing in yourself because track is between you and you. You have to put all the work in by yourself to get better and succeed.”
Chase Hayden has taken advantage of his father’s knowledge and experience of playing running back in the SEC and NFL.
“The footwork stuff, he’s been through it,” Chase Hayden said. “He tells me things to be aware of inside and outside of football.”
The importance of being a student of the game and film study has also been stressed by his father.
“He’s been studying film since flag football,” Aaron Hayden said. “I’ve been taping games forever. I have flag football games on up to high school.”
Chase Hayden understands fundamentals.
“Getting to the line before you make a cut, getting your shoulders square, getting off the ball, accelerating when you see a hole,” Aaron Hayden said. “He’s been hearing that since he was 6 years old.”
When it came to making his college decision, Chase Hayden said the relationships he built at Arkansas swayed him to Fayetteville.
“The people made the place,” he said. “Arkansas made me feel like a priority. That’s where I felt like I needed to be when I felt like they made me a priority.”
Strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert won over Haydens with a presentation during one of their visits to Arkansas.
“You can tell he’s like a mad scientist,” Chase Hayden said. “I love being around people like that.”
Arkansas freshman running back Chase Hayden grew up in Collierville, Tenn., as a huge fan of former Razorbacks running back Darren McFadden.
Arkansas freshman running back Chase Hayden (left) receives the handoff from senior quarterback Austin Allen at practice Aug. 1 in Fayetteville. Hayden is one of three newcomers in the backfield this season for the Razorbacks.
Chase Hayden, then 7, stands in front of a poster of Darren McFadden in 2006 at his home in Tennessee. Hayden’s father Aaron bought his son the poster of McFadden, who played running back for the Razorbacks in 2005-2007.