Geno Hayes wore No. 10 at Florida State like his idol and was the player to take over for Derrick Brooks on the Bucs defense after the Pro Football Hall Fame linebacker was released following the 2008 season.
That’s why news of Mr. Hayes’ death Monday night at age 33 after a long battle with liver disease struck Brooks particularly hard.
“I had high regard for Geno, and it definitely hurt,” Brooks said Tuesday. ”I got the news last night from his mom. You know, it makes me appreciate all the conversations we had over the last year or so. We would at least talk about once a month.
“I was aware of his battle the entire time and tried to do what I could to encourage him through this process, just praying and hoping he would receive a transplant or heal from this disease. The healing process is complete now that he is with the Lord.”
Mr. Hayes, who played four seasons with the Bucs and starred at Florida State, entered hospice care in Valdosta, Ga., last week suffering from Stage 3 liver disease and in need of a transplant.
Before entering the hospital last month, Mr. Hayes told ESPN his family has a history of liver disease but said he believed his use of nonprescription pain medications (NSAIDs) to recover from football injuries contributed to his condition.
Mr. Hayes told ESPN he was first diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis, but “when we dug in deeper, it became just chronic liver disease, because I don’t drink like that.
“If I did drink, it was just, like, wine or something like that. But my body is made different. And that’s what (my doctor) said — ‘Everybody’s made different.’ I went from 220 (pounds) to 150.”
A sixth-round pick of the Bucs in 2008, Mr. Hayes succeeded Brooks as the Bucs’ weakside linebacker. Not many players would want to follow an 11-time Pro Bowl Player and former Defensive Player of the Year, but Mr. Hayes embraced the challenge.
“That he he did, for sure,” Brooks said. “Just the positive things he brought. He was in a tough position playing when I left, and I just wish I had another year to help prepare him for it. Who knows what the next 10 years could’ve been at that position for him. But he took what he learned here to Chicago and Jacksonville.”
Mr. Hayes played one season with the Bears (2012) and two with the Jaguars (2013-14).
“Wearing the 55 in Jacksonville was always funny,” Brooks said. “He always said he was keeping me alive. Everybody that was a teammate of his loved him. He was a fun-loving individual, and even going through this we were laughing or smiling or would find something positive to move forward with.”
The Bucs released a statement remembering Mr. Hayes as always being one of the first players to volunteer to help with charitable events in the area.
“During his time with the Buccaneers, Geno was a beloved teammate and often the first player to volunteer his time to our efforts in the community,” the statement read. “He frequently visited schools and had a remarkable ability to connect with children. Losing him at such a young age is heartbreaking. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Added Florida State coach Mike Norvell in a tweet, “Thoughts and prayer for the family and friends of Geno Hayes. He lived his life as a tremendous Seminole who impacted so many throughout his journey on and off the field. His legacy will live on.”
Mr. Hayes played in 56 games in four seasons with the Bucs, starting 42. He finished with 257 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 15 pass breakups, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, four interceptions, including a pick-six, and a fumble recovery.
He is survived by his wife, Shevelle, a 12-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.
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