LINCOLN — Ashton Hayes moved from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Reno, Nevada, at 11 years old. He figured he’d continue to be as dominant on the playing field as he was before.
“But around the eighth grade, I wasn’t very good,” said Hayes, now one of the top running backs in the state at Reno McQueen High School.
So Hayes, officially visiting Nebraska this weekend, got almost religious about his diet, training and running regimen. He got lean and fast — he runs a 10.88-second 100-meter dash — and by his sophomore year at a different high school, he’d run for 2,429 yards and 30 touchdowns, landing on NU’s recruiting radar.
The Huskers are squarely on Hayes’ radar, too, and the biggest selling point is Nebraska’s approach to nutrition and strength and conditioning. The three-star prospect is a big fan of Dave Ellis and Zach Duval.
“The nutrition piece and weightlifting, those are things that are really important to me, and Nebraska does a great job with it,” Hayes said.
NU has pitched Hayes on its increased commitment to nutrition under Ellis, who has expanded the scope and cost of Nebraska’s program since his return in 2018.
Hayes is intrigued by the Huskers’ vision for him as a player, too. At 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, Hayes can play both running back and slot. He said Nebraska coaches like him for the role Wan’Dale Robinson had in 2019 and 2020, with a heavier emphasis on running back.
“But I can line up and play in the slot, too,” Hayes said.
Hayes had 28 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno. He transferred to McQueen before his junior season because he no longer lived in Damonte Ranch’s area.
Nevada didn’t play high school football until the spring, and even then it was just five games. Hayes rushed for 607 yards and seven touchdowns, finding his stride after a tough season-opening game, McQueen coach Jim Snelling said.
“He was one of the first guys up to the field, hitting the sled with the linemen,” Snelling said. “He’s always one of the guys watching the most film. He’s always prepared and ready to go. He knows his job and the guy in front of him’s job as well. He knows how the blocking schemes are going to work and where the holes are going to break.”
Northern Nevada, where Reno is located, tends to produce three or four Division I football prospects per year, Snelling said. McQueen has produced NFL players Kyle Van Noy and Brandon Aiyuk. As a freshman at Damonte Ranch, Hayes played with Michigan starting quarterback Cade McNamara.
NU is the primary Big Ten team in the mix with Hayes, one of his top two teams along with Cal. He visited Cal last week — he liked the city and academic program — and he’ll head to the Huskers this weekend. There might be a visit to Boise State, too.
Hayes said he’d like to make a decision before his senior year and may make it soon if he’s certain about a school.
Snelling, whose son, Robby, will visit Nebraska this fall as a football/baseball prospect, highly recommends Hayes.
“You wonder how he’s going to fit in with the team, and he immediately fit in,” Snelling said. “He was a great get for us. As good of a player as he is, he’s a better person.”
Other visitors on a busy Husker weekend:
» Two years after landing Tamon Lynum from Orlando Evans High School, Nebraska will try to convince safety Markeith Williams to join Lynum him from the same school. A four-star prospect according to 247Sports and ESPN, Williams — listed anywhere from 6-1 to 6-3, 170 to 180 pounds — unofficially visited Miami for a recruiting barbecue last week and heads to Ohio State later this month.
» Boulder (Colorado) Fairview receiver Grant Page has 24 touchdown catches over his last 19 games. His 6-2, 175-pound frame evokes memories of NU’s last receiver recruit from Fairview, Kenny Bell. Page isn’t the punt/kick returner Bell was, but the three-star prospect does play defense — five interceptions over the last two seasons — and could be an intriguing athlete to add, even if Landon Samson (Southlake, Texas) picks NU later this month.
» After decommitting from Michigan, Boston-area linebacker Tyler Martin quickly had the Huskers on his radar. A load at 6-3, 235, Martin projects to inside 'backer. He plays at Buckingham Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge. Rivals and ESPN view him as a four-star prospect, 247Sports has him as a three-star. The top competitor is likely Arizona, where former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown landed after Jim Harbaugh fired him.
» Michigan will be Nebraska’s primary competition for defensive end Hayden Schwartz, a 6-4, 244-pound defensive end from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. Schwartz visited the Wolverines last week and hits NU this weekend. Schwartz plays in a 4-3 and 3-4 defense, and had 12 sacks and 20 tackles for loss over the last two seasons for Bolles, a stacked program that lost in the 2020 4A state title game and recently produced Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
» Cornerback Avery Powell (Jersey City, New Jersey) takes his first official visit this weekend to Nebraska. The 5-10, 170-pound three-star — who appeared in four games this season for St. Peter’s Prep — has offers from Penn State, Wisconsin and more, but has been quiet during his recruiting process.
More recruiting notes:
» While Nebraska awaits final word from Ohio State defensive back transfer Tyreke Johnson — the former five-star who officially visited NU last week — there's another player in the transfer portal familiar to Husker fans.
Elijah Blades is leaving Texas A&M as a graduate transfer. Blades signed with Nebraska in the 2017 class, did not academically qualify, went to Arizona Western, then Texas A&M, and is again a college free agent. Blades opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID.
» If Valen Erickson was a heavy lean toward Nebraska after his official visit to NU, it didn’t stop home-state Illinois from extending an offer Tuesday. Erickson attends St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago.