Most college football players would tell you they never get nervous. Not even if they’re assigned to block a 6-foot-5, 308-pound nose guard on their first start. Not even if they must try to hear their quarterback call signals over the roar of 112,455 maniacal fans.
Air Force junior center Austin Hayes is not a typical college football player. He speaks the truth.
“I was very nervous,” Hayes said. “I’ve always had a nervousness before games but it was definitely more for that game.”
When the Falcons’ season began, Hayes believed he would spend games watching from the bench as Michael Husar’s backup. This changed the instant Husar tumbled to the field against Idaho State with a severe injury to his left knee. The injury ended Husar’s 2012 season.
Husar’s departure meant Hayes had to do battle with Michigan’s Will Campbell, who performs a nice imitation of a mountain. Campbell is 6-foot-5, 308 pounds (at least) and Hayes is 6-2, 250 pounds (at best).
This possible horror show had a happy ending. The Air Force offensive line played superbly against Michigan, helping the Falcons power to 290 rushing yards. And the Hayes-Campbell matchup did not turn into a mismatch.
Hayes would be expected to announce he had no doubts about his ability to contain Campbell.
Again, he takes a different approach.
“I will say I definitely surprised myself,” Hayes said. “I definitely feel like the Lord was playing through me with that. I was doing things that I never thought I could do.
“I seemed to be playing fast, and I held my ground against that nose tackle — and he’s really big — better than I ever would have dreamed. He’s a big guy, and it was a dogfight with him.”
His teammates agreed with Hayes’ view of his performance.
Tackle Jason Kons was sad when Husar went down for the season, but Hayes’ performance at Michigan lifted his spirits.
“You always wonder how guys are going to react to an opportunity,” Kons said. “Austin did an awesome job.”
Senior running back Cody Getz ran for 130 yards against Michigan with the help of Hayes’ blocking.
“He played an amazing game,” Getz said. “It’s a huge, huge, huge challenge when you step into a game in front of 112,000 fans and take on a 308-pound nose guard. I am so impressed by the way he played and the way he handled himself.”
Hayes has taken a big leap. He played on the junior varsity as a freshman and sophomore. When he snapped the ball to quarterback Connor Dietz in the second quarter against Idaho State, it was the first varsity snap of his career.