Not many people expected Dallan Hayden to have the year he did in 2022 for the Buckeyes.
It is pretty rare for a freshman running back to come in and carry the ball over 100 times at Ohio State. Especially when that freshman comes into a room with two established starters like the Buckeyes had last year in TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams.
Injuries made both Williams and Henderson unavailable at times, but those injuries had nothing to do with Hayden being good enough and ready enough to help when called upon.
Hayden finished second on the team with 111 carries and third with 553 yards rushing. His five rushing touchdowns were also good for third, just one behind Henderson.
Hayden had three 100-yard rushing days last season, including a gutty 146 yards on 27 carries at Maryland the week before the Michigan game. He also carried the ball nine times for 46 yards against Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
The Buckeyes are using the 42-41 loss to the Bulldogs as motivation this year, as is Hayden.
“I felt like I did some good things that game. I was a true freshman playing against the number one team in the country,” he said. “We played very well as an offense and unfortunately, it didn’t go how we wanted. But we use that to build motivation for this season, to find where that one point is. Coach Mick, coach Day have created environments to try to find where that one point is, or where the extra inch is that we need.”
One of things that Hayden did is add weight. He was checking in at 205 in the spring, which was up about 12 pounds from his time as a true freshman.
“I wanted to gain weight because in the Big Ten when you’re 190, 195 pounds, you probably not gonna get it,” Hayden said. “You’ve probably got to be above 200 or a little bigger. So I felt like 205 would be a good weight for me.”
It wasn’t so much during the game that Hayden would feel worn down. The toll would start to be felt after the game. So Hayden spent his offseason getting bigger, getting stronger, and just honing his craft and sharpening his already sizable skill set.
“I feel like I’m really fast,” he said of his game. “I got a little power to me and I feel like I always run full speed and I can hit the crease.”
Hayden showed all of that last season, and has designs on showing it once again this season. After his freshman year, however, rumors started to be whispered that the Memphis native might be looking to head back home to Tennessee.
It was an odd rumor given the successful freshman year he had just finished up. But such is life in the era of Name, Image, and Likeness, when rumors don’t need to be based in reality to have staying power.
“That was honestly a rumor,” Hayden said. “I’m not sure how that got out because it definitely didn’t come from anybody close to me or from me. So that was just crazy. That was definitely just a rumor.”
Running backs coach Tony Alford has been with him every step of the way. From his first freshman reps in practice, to his last carries against Georgia, to the offseason news cycle.
This spring, Alford saw a more mature Dallan Hayden in every facet, and he already came in more mature than most freshmen.
“I think that Dallan has grown, he’s maturing every single day,” Alford said last month. “Again, this is still his first spring. He’s never been through that. He played some in the fall, but he’s still maturing, he’s changing his body. He’s finally learning the game. I think he’s starting to understand just how important it is to study the game. And I say study the game, I don’t mean watch highlight videos. I mean actually study the game and what’s going on. He’s answering things very affirmatively.”
Everybody who carried the ball last year for the Buckeyes is back this year, save for quarterback CJ Stroud and fullback/tight end Mitch Rossi. TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams are talented veterans who have combined to rush for over 3,000 yards in their careers. If they stay healthy, that number will likely top 5,000 after this year.
What would that mean for Dallan Hayden? Should he expect fewer carries as a true sophomore this year?
“Oh, I haven’t thought, I haven’t even talked about him like that,” Alford said. “I mean, I’m just preparing our guys to get better every day individually, and then obviously holistically as our offensive unit. And we’ll figure all that out as we move down the road.”