16 min Read

Exit Interview: Hayes Pullard

By Lizelle Brandt

Hayes, you are a local, from Inglewood. Can you talk about your decision to go to USC? Was it pretty easy because you were a local, or were you kind of really torn?

It was a little bit of a challenge getting a bunch of offers and not being able to know what was a perfect fit for myself and my future. So, I took five visits. There were several schools I was looking at, from Notre Dame, Arizona State, Washington, and the home schools UCLA and USC. And I ended up coming down to USC and UCLA. Obviously that was the time Pete Caroll left and I knew Rick Neuheisel was on his way out so I was kind of not knowing where it was going to be a stable place and a perfect fit for myself and being able to compete, versus five people in front of me, or as far as just going in and starting, that was the difference between UCLA and USC. My dad always wanted me to go to USC, my family always wanted me to go to USC. Before Ken Norton left I asked him, “What do you think would be the best decision?” He being a UCLA native I really thought he was going to send me in that direction, but he didn’t. He told me to go get a great education at USC, be able to compete, and if you become a starter then that means you worked your tail off all spring ball and fall camp. I ended up picking USC and going in after what he said and what my family said.

During your career at USC you had a few coaching changes, from Kiffin to Orgeron, and I know that Orgeron was a really well loved coach especially by the defense. Can you talk about your decision to come back your senior year when you could have chosen to declare early? What made you decide to stay at USC for your senior year?

First of all, before I got to USC I promised my mom I would graduate. I was only two classes short of graduating, I made the promise, and I chose to keep that promise so that was the first reason I came back in. Second, I thought that we weren’t done as a team and a lot of guys were looking towards me as a leader. I don’t know what would have happened in the draft, but as far as that I feel like it was going to be a selfish move on myself just being able to be emotional because Coach O was leaving and leaving everybody out to dry, and a lot of guys looked up to me. So I wanted to stay for them and be able to carry on the leadership and be able to pass it on. I don’t think I was finished yet with the team. After this past year I felt good because we laid a perfect foundation for the future. Even though we didn’t get the games that we wanted and we lost and the situations like that, it was just a perfect foundation that was laid and it’s going to be a great upcoming couple of years at USC.

One thing that has been repeatedly mentioned when talking about you and your career is how you are a great leader. You’re the captain of the team. They refer to you as a field general. What does it mean to you to be talked about so highly?

This something I definitely pride myself on. I try to be humble most of all. When you come to a university like that you have to carry on a tradition. The tradition just doesn’t get passed on from talking about it or seeing pictures. I’ve learned from the older guys like the Rhett Ellisons, the T.J. McDonalds, and situations like that, and I was the next one that fell in that line. So me grabbing young guys and teaching them the Trojan way and teaching them how the tradition is suppose to be going. These 9 wins and 10 win seasons aren’t great at all. Those are not things were supposed to be satisfied with. We are only satisfied with going to the Rose Bowl, with going to national championships, and being able to win championship games every game, and not losing at the Coliseum. Those are the kind of things that you have to carry upon yourself. That’s the type of mindset that we have, the strong mindset the older guys have that the young ones don’t know yet. They don’t know. They just believe that winning in college football looks good and dandy but you have to continue winning national championship for the university. That’s how we get people to come back and after the sanctions are over now, you can see getting the best recruiting classes is going to be consistent. Now we will start to kind of get back in the national championships run and actually win these games now. So me being able to be that leader is a privilege. To be able to embrace the moment, and be able to learn from the coaches as well as the players, and not being a stubborn leader thinking that I know everything because I don’t, but some of the younger guys actually know what’s best for myself also.

I touched on this a little bit earlier. During your time at USC you had coach Kiffin and you’ve had coach Orgeron, you’ve had Sark. Can you talk about your experience playing for those different head coaches and what you’ve have learned from each?

I definitely loved every single coach. I mean I can’t say anything bad about any of them, everything happened for a reason. I felt Lane Kiffin was a great coach when I was there. When I started my red shirt freshman year we ended up going 10-2, on sanctions, and being ranked #1 in all those situations. He was just a good player’s coach. He definitely got in, met with the guys, wanted to get better each week, he wanted to continue to improve this team. He didn’t want to just keep the top guys good. He got down to the younger guys that were starting. Getting the older to met with the younger guys and get this whole team like a link, a strong link. That was something that stuck with me for the rest of my life. Now we don’t have any weak links at USC. He started that and now we just continue that. That’s what we know because Coach Kiffin embraced that and he controlled that. That was a perfect environment.

When Coach O was the head coach, he taught us something different, a more family-oriented brotherhood, little things like that keeps teams going. Playing for your buddy, looking next to you when your friend, your brother is tired, keep fighting for him. Fight for the person you’ve been working for all session. Don’t quit on the person next to you. It’s a different aspect molding this team together into this family. Bringing up the weak links or bringing up the guys that aren’t there yet.

Now Coach Sark, he comes in with high energy, high everything. Putting everything we already knew together, and now it’s just one huge rock. That was just the finished product. So now, us experiencing these situations, now were able to rope ’em. Because we are young, some of them are old, but we are still all molding into this big rock. It sucks that I won’t be there next year. I wish I could because there will be a lot of games won, but now like I said the foundation has been built and now they can build upon that.

From the head coaches to the assistant and position coaches during your time at SC, were there any particular coaches you want to point out in terms of how they affected and improved your game, whether it was coaches Barry, Hazelton, Ekeler, or Sherman. Anyone that you would want to particularly commend and talk about how it is they helped you?

I really do like every single coach. I don’t think just one coach can teach you everything. Having the privilege to be coached by four different line backer coaches was definitely a plus. So, I guess, many people don’t see that but I was able to learn something different form each coach. None of the coaches actually taught the same thing and it was awesome because it was like a new teacher teaching me a new move and now feeling like I’m starting to become a better linebacker each and every year instead of hearing the same thing or the repetitive little things. That was just a great opportunity honestly. It started with Joe Barry when I was a freshman and didn’t know no better, just making plays, running around, like I said it started with the foundation. And Hazelton came and started teaching me how to read plays and read offenses. Then Ekeler came and started teaching me how to use my hands better, teaching me how to work off of teamwork. And then Sherman came to get us started working on fundamentals and eye placement in situations like that. So I was able to get better and peak every single year and that’s what you want in football. You want to be a peak performer and you definitely want be a productive player.

How was it like playing with the likes of Devon Kennard, Su’a Cravans, J.R. Tavi? What did it mean to have such a good corps of linebackers playing with you during your time at SC?

It was an awesome experience. Devon Kennard was a little older than I was as a freshman and J.R. was a freshman at the time. It was awesome because we used to look on the walls and say we wanted to bring that linebacker tradition back because it’s been dying out for a little while. They haven’t had nobody that actually stood up and be that leader on and off the field. And we talk the talk and walk the walk. We definitely got it in the off-season, trained our tails off and then transferred it to the field. We want to be consistent linebackers as far as being very productive and making people fear the defense again because they didn’t fear the middle of the defense after those greats like Rey Maualuga, or Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews. So we definitely want to put that fear into their eyes and we want to let that grow over the years.

There is a great linebacker tradition at USC, including those guys you just mentioned, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews. How do you think your group in particular has represented the linebacker tradition at USC?

I believe that they would definitely be happy at what we accomplished over the years. I don’t remember the exact statistic but I think out of the three or four years that I was there we were #1 in rushing defense, which is the front seven or front eight, the people that are in the box. It’s definitely a help with Antwaun Woods, Leonard Williams, a bunch of other great defensive lineman that are in front of us. Us as a core inside that box, we were definitely dominant as far as competing against the run and when we had to play against somebody that was a big running team like Stanford, Boston Collage then they had the guys, we definitely shut them down. That was definitely a good thing to see, definitely a good thing to be a part of. Just seeing the guys that are older than us come back and say you guys are definitely growing up and that was definitely a great feeling.

What do you see as the future of linebacker at USC?

I definitely believe it’s going to be great! I believe Su’a is definitely stepping into the leadership roll, stepping up to be that top tier guy and him helping people around him. I’ve also had guys like Michael Hutchings that’s played behind me for two years. I taught him everything that I know. Working out around USC or walking in the office and something seeing Michael Hutchings teach like Cameron Smith the things that I was teaching him definitely puts a smile on my face. It’s not like you’re scared someone behind you is going to take your spot. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. You teach the guy the stuff, you want him climbing on your toes. That’s how you get better. That’s how you know you are not scared of competition. And that’s what you don’t want out of kids. You want them to continue to teach the guys younger than them, continue to get better, continue to compete and as far as that you want everybody in that group like that. I see USC is going to have a bright future. We are getting a lot of guys in as linebacker and we’re going to have that packed stadium once again. Basically shipping out top ten linebackers.

You were a 4 year starter at USC and you lead the team in tackles that last two seasons. If you could pick your favorite on the field moment as a Trojan what would it be?

It would definitely have to be either my, I want to say either my freshman year we beat Oregon at Oregon, and or when we beat Stanford at home. Either those 2 of the 50-2 win versus UCLA.

You mentioned games but what about a particular play you were involved in?

Probably versus Stanford this past year when I hit Barry Sanders Jr.

You got a 4.78 on your 40, you lifted 295 lbs 19 times, at the NFL Combine. Did you come away from the NFL Combine pleased with how you performed?

It definitely did, after just a couple of weeks of training due to the senior bowl which is a different type of game. I laid a foundation and I told myself and my agent and actually the whole team that I would like to do it again at the pro day. I wanted to compete. I wanted to show that I’m not stopping the workout. I’m showing that I’m gonna continue to be a peek performer so I did. I got the numbers down, got the numbers better. Now I can just focus on position drills just focus on straight linebacker stuff that I’m really good at. Stuff that I’m good at on the field, in the classroom, situations like that, just being a football player now instead of worrying about numbers and situations like that.

What are you doing between now and the NFL draft?

Just working out as far as being called for private workouts from teams. Then coming to the school now and working out for probably an hour or so and just meeting with the guys as well and developing that personal relationship with the coaches so they can like you and you like them and situations like that. So now that’s going to happen all the way to the draft and maybe a couple visits to these teams to probably get a little more individualized types of situations with the players and the coaching staff, the GM’s, basically the whole organization to see if they really do like you.

What kind of player is an NFL team getting if they draft Hayes Pullard?

They are definitely getting a high energy type of player, on the field and in practice, that continues to peak every single week A player who will definitely continue to develop himself and the people around him. A very productive player. A player who is very quick and attacks like a machine who would definitely be a good piece to add to win the Super Bowl.

What is the degree you are graduating with from USC?

I’m graduating with a degree in public policy and development, the real-estate track.

Can you talk about the importance of graduating? You had mentioned you made a promise to your mom. Can you talk about what it means to you and your mom, your family now that you are graduating?

They always talked about graduating from USC was a big thing because they weren’t obviously putting all the marbles into football. In my head I’m like football, football, football, but me starting to pass classes, starting to narrow things down and go on with life. My advisors were like now you have 35 units left, then now you have 16, then now you have 4 and it’s like oh snap it’s narrowing down! And I’m like, I might as well graduate. Your education is paid for, all you have to do is go to class, study a little bit, and do this and when I actually got the degree it just made everybody like teary-eyed, like Hayes did everything he wanted to do. He wanted to go to the NFL, he wanted to go to college, he wanted to get a degree for his mom, and now it shows that I’m a man of my word. I don’t quit things. I finish everything I start. I stayed at USC at 4 years even though we went through all that trouble. It just shows what kind of commitment I have and I cherish that. I hope the guys behind me also stay and don’t leave early, unless you’re in a situation like Leonard Williams’ situation, first pick overall, I mean, in that situation you definitely have to embrace it.

So you’re saying Leonard Williams is going to be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft?

Most definitely I’m going with Leonard William’s, number 1 overall. That’s where he should go. I am with him. If the Raiders pick him I would not be mad at him. (Laughs.)

What are your career plans once you’re done with football later on? Do you know yet?

I definitely want to get into real-estate, commercial real-estate.

Any other thing you want to say to the Trojan fans out there as you move from this one step of finishing up USC to the next step in your career?

I want say thank you to all the Trojan family. They have supported us since day one. Even when we were going through the sanctions, when we were losing in tough situations. They stood by us and stayed faithful. I want to thank them for that and hopefully they can follow me at the next level.

Got any questions, including on any legal issues involving Trojan Sports, or topics you want covered on the Trojan Law Blitz With Lizelle Brandt? Email Lizelle at [email protected], or tweet her at @LizelleBrandt.