Hayes: "Northwestern has the upper hand"

Hayes: "Northwestern has the upper hand"

Justice Hayes' list appears to have gotten top-heavy. A month after naming a handful of finalist – but no favorites – a pecking order seems to be taking shape for the four-star running back. Purple Reign caught up with Hayes, who disclosed why Northwestern has the upper hand and why he views one of his former front-runners as a "sinking ship."

Justice Hayes' list appears to have gotten top-heavy.

Less than a month ago, the four-star running back told Scout.com recruiting analyst Allen Trieu that there were six teams still in the running for a commitment – Northwestern, Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan and Tennessee – plus a "sleeper," Wisconsin, that he still wanted to visit. At the time, Hayes declined to name a favorite.

Well, the schools on the list haven't changed. But judging from what Hayes said in a chat Tuesday with Purple Reign, rankings seem to be taking shape.

"Northwestern has the upper-hand because they were the first to offer me," said the 5-10, 185-pound Hayes. "I have a teammate who's going to Northwestern; he can help me out, help me with seeing how the coaches are, how they operate and seeing how it is around campus. He can help me get around."

The teammate in question is wide receiver Tony Jones, a 2010 three-star receiver who chose Northwestern over more than a half-dozen schools that had offered.

"We talk quite a bit," Hayes said of Jones, his running mate at Grand Blanc (Mich.) Community High School. "We've been with each other out whole high school career. We're tight."

Having a teammate who's headed Evanston way is one thing NU has working in its favor. So, too, is the fact that the Wildcats were the first to offer.

"Them being the first team shows that they really trust me and are really interested in me and that they really need me," Hayes said. "They're kind of lacking in the running back area and they feel I'm the guy who can come in and fill that spot."

With his 4.45 speed and big-play ability (see highlight reel below for proof), Hayes, who last season had 1,400 yard rushing and 15 touchdowns on 175 carries, certainly looks like he could help the Northwestern backfield. Not a single Northwestern running back with more than 10 carries last season averaged more than 4.0 yards, and the Cats failed to gain 95 yards on the ground in six different games last season. Freshman Arby Fields showed flashes and got into the end zone five times, and Adonis Smith, a three-star back from San Mateo, Calif., signed this spring and will be in Evanston soon enough. Nonetheless, there figures to be a chance for Hayes to make an immediate impact in the Cats' backfield, and that's one of the things that has made NU the front-runner.

"They'll be high on my list," Hayes said of NU.

So, if Northwestern is high on the list, then who isn't? That's something that Hayes discussed for the first time. And the pecking order may not sit well in Ann Arbor or Madison.

"Honestly, a few of those school I'm growing apart from," Hayes said. "I really haven't said this to anybody, but Michigan – their program isn't going too well right now. They're not stable."

Hayes was seemingly referring to an eventful year off the field at UM. Head coach Rich Rodriguez was named as a co-defendant in a nearly-$1 million lawsuit filed in Alabama, stemming from unpaid loans. And more recently, Michigan launched an internal investigation regarding allegations that the football team violated regulations about practice time and the number of coaches who could be involved with certain team activities. Self-imposed penalties will be announced Tuesday.

"I don't think I can put myself in that situation," Hayes added of Michigan. "It's like jumping onto a sinking ship. I don't want to put myself in that position."

While Michigan made the cut last month, it seems the Wolverines may have gotten cut this month. As is the case with Wisconsin, which Hayes has previously mentioned as a sleeper.

"And Wisconsin, I haven't been there, but – I still have my interest in those guys – but I'm starting to grow apart form them," Hayes said. "Some schools you just can't see yourself at, and those are schools [UM and UW] that right now I just can't see myself at."

For the record, Hayes hasn't officially nixed any schools from his list, which means that childhood favorite Michigan State, Iowa, Notre Dame and Tennessee are all in the mix. Heck, he could have a change of heart about the Badgers or Wolverines and end up with those schools.

Nonetheless, it looks as though Northwestern may have gone from one of seven contenders last month to one of five contenders this month. And what's more, NU has the unique distinction of (a) having already nabbed a commitment from Hayes' teammate and friend Tony Jones, and (b) offering Hayes before any other schools. Plus, Hayes likes what he's seen on campus.

"I've been down there a couple times," he said. "I met all the players, stayed at the dorms. Northwestern is the only school where I actually stayed overnight. The guys were all really nice. I got a tour of the campus. It's not a big campus; it's easy to get around. I don't want to get on campus and not know where I'm going."

Exactly where Hayes is going could be taking shape.

You can comment on this story at the Ryan Field Message Board. Feel free to contact Purple Reign at northwestern.scout@gmail.com.

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