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He's at Little Thomas More but Getting Big Attention from NFL

The NFL is a hyper-trendy league where teams topple over one another to find the same success as the previous year's champion. Whether it be the Wildcat formation or the no-huddle offense, the average football fan will see the entire cycle of fads before each one rolls around again.

One of the most recent trends in terms of player prototype is the stocky running back. There are multiple modern examples of star feature backs under six-feet tall—Giovani Bernard, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ray Rice, to name but a few—and it is because of this kind of player that explains why NFL scouts are sniffing around the football field at Thomas More College.

Domonique Hayden is 5'8'' tall, but weighs 215 pounds which makes him a load to bring down—imagine tackling a fire hydrant that runs a 4.55 forty-yard dash and you've got the idea. He's muscular and thick-legged and prides himself on being a power back.

“I would describe myself as a low-to-the-ground, inside powerful back,” he said when asked about his style of play.

The numbers are insane. Hayden averaged 201 rushing yards in 10 games last season and added 25 touchdowns to his 2000-yard campaign of 2013. Against Grove City, he ran for 327 yards and four touchdowns, including an 89-yard scamper. He has set every single-game and single-season school rushing record worth mentioning and won a host of awards in his junior year, including being named an Associated Press Division III All-American. The man has done it all except achieve the crown jewel of them all, the elusive championship ring. The Saints were 9-1 last season, but the lone defeat was enough to push them out of the postseason.

For head coach Jim Hilvert, so much depends upon the tree trunk legs of No. 30. Not only is Hayden the main staple of the Saints rushing diet, the team also intends on involving him more in the passing game. Last season Hayden had 217 receiving yards on 14 catches and three touchdowns.

“I love getting the opportunity to catch passes,” Hayden said with a grin.

With that kind of workload, though, the mileage can pile up on Hayden's body, which may concern some scouts. In 2012, Hayden suffered a knee injury in the first game and was done for the year. He spent the season on the sideline with the coaches, learning. He rehabbed hard and came back with a serious bang last season.

“When you rush for over 2,000 yards after a knee injury and you're squatting over 600 pounds, yeah, he's completely healed,” Coach Hilvert said.

“Coming back from the knee injury has been a blessing. It really gave me some time to learn even more about the game and it helped me grow a tighter bond with my teammates. It was an eye-opener that anything can happen, but you have to make the most of it.”

Making it to the NFL is obviously very difficult, but making it from D-III football is an absolute scarcity. In the past two drafts, no D-III players were selected and only eight have been in the past six years. That isn't to say there aren't success stories, however. Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon and Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III—both from Mount Union—are relatively well-known players who hail from a Division III school. Scouts from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were reportedly at Thomas More College on Wednesday to see Hayden. The Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions have also worked him out. To see him in the pros is a long shot, but there is a legitimate shot nonetheless.

"I tell people all the time '(the NFL) will find you if you're good enough', and there's no doubt they found Dom,” said Hilvert.

No matter how much praise and attention Hayden gets, though, he routinely defers to his teammates. “Getting NFL looks is a blessing, but it's not my main concern. Our goal is to win the national championship, so I want to put my team first and not the NFL first,” Hayden said.

Yet, because the chances are slim, Hayden recognizes the importance of the other reasons he's in school. He made the PAC academic honor-roll last year and states repeating that feat as his top personal goal of this school year. Hayden majors in communications at Thomas More with an eye toward broadcast journalism.

“I know that if I don't get the grades, then I can't play out here with my brothers, and I cannot let them down, so it's important I go to class everyday and get my grades and study hard.”

“He's a great example for some of our younger guys,” Hilvert said. “He's a great football player but on top of that, he's a great student, he's a great person, he does things the right way.”

On the field, though, the goals all start and end with winning championships.

“I feel like this year we can make it to the national championship because this is the best team that I have played on in my four years at Thomas More and I feel like when we start clicking, we can make a run.”

So while even an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in April is still severely premature to assume for Hayden at this point, with a similar showing as a year before, the appropriate heads are certain to turn in his direction.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo: Domonique Hayden/provided