LARGO — Adarius Hayes is a relative gentle giant at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds.
He greets you with a wide, heartwarming grin, looks you in the eye and quietly asks, “How are you doing today?” He says “yes, sir” and “no, sir,” as well as “please” and “thank you.” When he speaks with you, he makes you feel like there is no one else he would rather be with.
“How can I not be humble?” he asks. “I’m the youngest of seven siblings.”
But on the football field during a game?
“No more Mr. Gentle,” Marcus Paschal, the nine-year Largo coach, said of his junior middle linebacker. “He hits people so, so hard. When the game starts, he turns into a different person. He’s definitely worth the price of admission.”
The explosiveness comes partly from the leverage gained from being tall, playing low and blasting up for tackles. It comes from sheer strength (400-plus pounds on the squat, 300-plus on the bench press) and speed (4.7 seconds in the 40).
It also comes from playing with a chip on his shoulder.
“When I was younger I was always tall and skinny, and I think people didn’t think I looked that tough or strong,” said Hayes, who despite his strength doesn’t strike a hulking figure. “I thought, ‘I have to show them what I can do.’ I still feel that way. I think a lot of opponents still look at me and think, ‘He doesn’t look that intimidating.’”
But he is, and recruiting services and colleges see his potential.
Rivals.com has Hayes ranked as the country’s 50th overall junior prospect and No. 2 among linebackers. In Florida, Hayes stands as the 15th overall junior prospect.
He currently has 23 offers from some of the heaviest college hitters, including Alabama and Georgia, along with Florida, Florida State, Miami, USF and UCF.
“I’m keeping my options open for now,” said Hayes, who led his team as a sophomore with an average of 9.3 tackles per game and 18 total tackles for loss. He also carries a 3.5 GPA.
“I’m focusing on my junior year here, and then I’ll start thinking more about college.”
Given Hayes’ physical stature, Paschal, who played for Largo before moving on to Iowa and a four-year stint as a defensive back with several teams in the NFL, said he could see how some coaches might want Hayes to switch to defensive end.
“But I believe he is going to stay at linebacker (which is where Hayes said he prefers to play),” Paschal said.
“People come in and see him and say, ‘Is he really 6-4?’ Because when he plays, he looks more like 6-1 or 6-2, because he plays so low. And then when he runs it’s unreal, because you don’t see guys who are 6-4 running like that, that low with that much agility. I think he needs to stay at linebacker, because he moves so well side to side. It’s really rare.”
In the one game he’s played this season, a 21-0 victory over Pinellas Park on Aug. 26 (last week’s game against Lakeland was cancelled due to inclement weather), Hayes was a terror, collecting 14 tackles and wreaking havoc on passing lanes.
As he sat on the sideline before practice Wednesday, two days before a game at Boca Ciega, Hayes said he wasn’t thinking about what he’s done or what he might yet do.
“I just want to help lead my team every day right now,” he said. “I love this. I love all of this here at Largo.”
Then, of course, he broke into a big grin.