Ravens second-year outside linebacker Daelin Hayes calls himself a man of action. Whether in the community or on the football field, he is determined to make his presence felt.
That’s why his rookie season in 2021 has been so frustrating. From an ankle injury to knee surgery, Hayes appeared in a game against the Detroit Lions, playing just four snaps before watching the rest of the season unfold from the sidelines.
After spending the offseason learning to take care of his body and getting stronger, Hayes said he was in perfect health and believed the sky was the limit this season. Even though the Ravens only practiced in shorts and jersey during organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp, he looked impressive, generating sacks and intercepting a pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson on Wednesday.
However, Hayes’ contributions transcend the football field. At Notre Dame, the former fifth-round pick won the Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award, honoring a college football player who impacted the lives of others through donations and community service.
Hayes has volunteered at places like the South Bend Center for the Homeless in Indiana, the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County, and was mentored at the South Bend Juvenile Detention Center. He began laying his foundations in Baltimore, hosting a Mother’s Day event at the Women’s Housing Coalition and visiting children at Charles H. Hickey Jr. School.
Hayes spoke to the Baltimore Sun to discuss injury recovery, new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, reuniting with former Notre Dame teammate and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton and the importance of using its platform to serve the community.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You were only able to play one game last year due to injuries. At this stage of the off-season, how are you feeling mentally and physically?
Mentally and physically, I feel good. It’s great to be back playing ball, and I’m blessed to be here. I feel good during our team and individual stuff [drills]. I feel like I’m growing and improving as a player.
After getting injured in the Detroit Lions game, was there a chance to play at some point during last season?
No. I mean, at the end of the year, it was more fair to get back to training a bit. But I was never going to play at that time. It was too soon. By the time I could have played, it was probably a month after the season.
How frustrating is it to have these types of injuries that keep you out for a long time?
It’s hard because when you’re hurt, there’s nothing you can do about it. But at the end of the day, if things are out of your control, all you can do is control how you bounce back. Without really having the opportunity to compete until then, it was all about staying diligent with work, whether it was training or studying. So it’s all about overcoming that mental block, especially during your rookie year.
Even though you only played one game, what lessons did you learn from your rookie season?
I think the season is the fun part. The hardest part is getting through the offseason and our training camps. And learn what it takes to be a crow. I think [after] going through it and just understanding the expectations, so it’s almost like a brotherhood. Once you get there, you know what it takes to be a crow. I hope this year I can just go out and have fun and show it.
What were your thoughts on defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald?
I like Mike. He’s a great trainer. He’s super intentional about how he teaches, and that’s been helpful, especially as a young defenseman. Like breaking it down from the ground up and leaving no stone unturned. It’s huge for us.
And what about outside linebackers coach Rob Leonard?
Rob was my Senior Bowl coach the year I came out in 2020. It was great to have that [reunion] with him. He’s my guy, man. He’s a guy who pushes you. Ever since I met him, he always tries to get the best version of me. When you have a coach who is invested in seeing you get better, you can’t help but go along with a guy like that.
You are also reunited with security Kyle Hamilton. How has it gone so far?
It was great to have another guy from Notre Dame [and] having some familiarity. I think him and I feel like we bring a level of comfort to each other because we’ve known each other for over three years. He comes from the same environment as me and adapts to Baltimore.
What was it like playing with him in matches and training? What are the things that impressed you the most about him?
Its range. When he got to first grade, he was long as hell. I remember our first side, I think he had 22 interceptions. Any guy that comes to camp and gets 22 interceptions, that’s him. He covers so much because he is 6 feet 4 inches tall. It’s awesome.
How was your preparation for the offseason trying to prepare your body for the season? What things have you tried to improve?
I think you learn to take care of my body. In college, you really don’t learn all the ways to make sure the thing that makes you the most money, which is your body, is in good standing.
Learning to do that by building a team around me that allows me to push the limits every day, I think that’s been the focus. Busting my ass, trying to get a stronger upper body. I wanted to get a little bigger then [during] first and second down, I can be more efficient.
What are your expectations for the coming season?
I think the sky is the limit. It’s about proving it. Obviously, I wasn’t lucky enough to injure myself, and that’s something I can’t control. I have the highest expectations for myself. I want to be a dominant force, I want to be a great teammate and a reliable player. I want to set it on fire because I know what I’m capable of.
Coming from the football field, you have been active in the community since your time at Notre-Dame. What does it mean to you to help others in need?
It’s really about the platform that we have. There’s no point in having this platform if you’re not accessible to the people you’re trying to serve.
I trained at the facility, so I woke up at 6 a.m. every day. Conclude my working day [around] 1:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m. Then I asked our community relations team to organize a community event, whether it was one or two a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays with organizations they partnered with that targeted young people downtown. He was able to do this from February 1 to May 16.
The guys who played here before were field dogs, but accessible to the community. Part of being a crow is being a servant. It’s something I take personally. It’s even more special when you put that “Ravens” on your chest because you know who you represent.
Of all the community service you’ve done, is there one in particular that stands out the most?
For me, it’s about the inner city youth. It’s something I started at Notre-Dame. From homeless shelters to teaching kids, we kind of got to feel what our niche was when it came to service. So I discovered that youth was more my ministry.
What has your experience been like volunteering at juvenile detention centers in South Bend and Baltimore City?
It was doping. They’re really nice and well-behaved kids because they were exposed to different things at a younger age. It’s being a kid trying to navigate these situations, which is probably why he made these mistakes, and not having someone to put their arm around them and say, “Look, don’t go not over there.”
It’s really about encouraging them and letting them know whatever situation you’re in right now and the mistakes you make, it’s really how you bounce back that defines a person.
Two years ago, you organized a rally at Notre Dame on June 16. How important is it to you to use your platform to advocate for social justice and racial equality?
The reason it was so special at Notre Dame was the audience. I am a black man [that’s] leading a rally for a black cause on a predominantly white campus. It was important because at the time, I was captain at the start of my senior year. It had to be done and I had to be the one to do it. I represent African Americans on our team. A freshman or sophomore may not have been comfortable taking this step.
As a leader, it was my job to speak for them. Be bold at this time for them so they can have the confidence to express their feelings about the cause, but also have the confidence to move forward. It takes one to push that envelope.
We’ve galvanized an entire community, whether it’s our basketball, tennis, baseball or hockey team. It was special that the whole community rallied behind this cause at such a crucial time. Speaking for them and saying what needed to be said regardless of the pushback made it a special moment.
In the future, do you plan to start your own charitable foundation with your name linked?
Yes, but it’s a matter of timing. I have to build my name before I start anything. Right now it’s about building a foundation, getting to know the community, and understanding the people I represent.