LINCOLN — Ashton Hayes knew it was a race of sorts. One running back spot available in Nebraska’s 2022 recruiting class. Two guys — he and Justin Williams — vying for it. First one to commit got the spot.
Williams, out of the Atlanta area, wants to take his time. Hayes, out of Reno (Nevada) McQueen High School, was ready to sign the papers on his June 11 official visit.
Sit on it for a week, NU coach Scott Frost told Hayes. The Huskers, having been burned in recent years by some ecstatic commitments on fun official visits, didn’t want Hayes jumping in the boat, only to have his eye wander at other boats on the sea.
Hayes was sure last week and on Thursday, when he called assistants Ryan Held and Tony Tuioti — and eventually Frost. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Hayes loved NU on Zoom calls, felt the same on campus and highlighted the program’s emphasis on strength and conditioning and nutrition.
NU even gave Hayes a body scan to give him an idea of his body fat and muscle percentage, a moment Hayes called “super cool.” Nebraska had the edge over California, also a finalist, and offers from Utah, Stanford and Oregon State, among others.
“Ultimately college football is just another step to our dreams in the NFL, and I don’t think there’s another school that can get me as prepared as Nebraska,” Hayes said. “That was the big decision-maker for me. I wanted to hop on the opportunity as soon as possible.”
A three-star recruit, Hayes ran for 2,429 yards and 30 touchdowns — while adding 28 catches for 346 yards and two touchdowns — as a sophomore at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno. Hayes transferred to McQueen during the pandemic and rushed for more than 600 yards in a COVID-shortened spring season that ended two months ago.
“He’s always one of the guys watching the most film,” McQueen coach Jim Snelling said of Hayes. Snelling’s son, Robby, is a top baseball/football recruit visiting NU in the fall. “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.”
Hayes also has the kind of versatility that Nebraska looks for in a running back prospect. On his visit, Hayes said, NU compared him to Maurice Washington and Wan’Dale Robinson, two players of different sizes but similar skills who posted big numbers over two seasons for the Huskers.
“They also asked me if I’d return punts, return kicks, so really just an all-around speed specialist, which is what I consider myself to be,” Hayes said. “That was another difference-maker — how I’d be utilized in the offense.”
Hayes ran a 11-second 100-meter dash this spring and a 22.34-second 200. He’s also a top student who had offers to Ivy League schools. His interviews, done on FaceTime, suggest he’ll be NU’s best peer recruiter, too.
He’s already working one of the prospects who visited with him last week.
“Grant Page, I let him know I was going to commit today, and he was super happy for me,” Hayes said of the Boulder (Colorado) Fairview receiver. Hayes rattled off all of the other visitors on his weekend, too.
“I know some guys want to finish their visits and things like that, but I took a different approach to recruiting,” Hayes said.
He and his dad, for one thing, made a depth chart.
Nebraska won the starting job.