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Ravens Q&A: OLB Daelin Hayes on learning from a frustrating rookie season, reuniting with Kyle Hamilton, the importance of community service and more


Ravens second-year outside linebacker Daelin Hayes calls himself a man of action. Whether in the community or on the football field, he’s determined to make his presence felt.

That’s why his rookie season in 2021 was so frustrating. From an ankle injury to a knee procedure, Hayes appeared in one game against the Detroit Lions, playing just four snaps before watching the rest of the season unfold from the sidelines.

After spending the offseason learning to take care of his body and get stronger, Hayes said he is fully healthy and believes the sky’s the limit this season. Even though the Ravens have only practiced in shorts and a jersey during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, he has looked impressive, generating sacks and intercepting a pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson on Wednesday.

However, Hayes’ contributions transcend the football field. At Notre Dame, the former fifth-round pick won the Freddie Solomon Community Spirit Award, honoring a college football player who has impacted the lives of others through giving and community service.

Hayes volunteered at places like the South Bend Center for the Homeless in Indiana, the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County and mentored at the South Bend Juvenile Detention Center. He has begun laying his foundation in Baltimore, hosting a Mother’s Day event at the Women’s Housing Coalition and visiting children at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School.

Hayes sat down with The Baltimore Sun to discuss recovering from injuries, new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, reuniting with former Notre Dame teammate and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton and the importance of using his platform to serve the community.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You were only able to play one game last year due to injuries. At this point in the offseason, how are you feeling from a mental and physical standpoint?

Mentally and physically, I’m feeling great. It’s great to be back playing ball, and I’m blessed to be here. I feel great during our team stuff and individual [drills]. I feel like I’m growing and enhancing as a player.

After getting hurt during the Detroit Lions game, was there ever a chance of playing at some point during last season?

No. I mean, late in the year, it was more just getting back out practicing a little bit. But I was never going to play at that time. It was too soon. By the time I would have been able to play, it was probably a month after the season.

How frustrating is it when you have those types of injuries that keep you out for a long period?

It’s tough because when you’re injured, there’s nothing you can do about it. But at the end of the day, if things are out of your control, all you can do is control how you bounce back. Without really having an opportunity to compete until this point in time, it was about staying diligent with the work stuff, whether it be workouts or studying. So it’s about pushing through that mental block, especially in your rookie year.

Despite playing in one game, what lessons did you learn from your rookie season?

I think the season is the fun part. The hard part is going through the offseason and our training camps. And learning what it takes to be a Raven. I think [after] going through that and just understanding the expectations, then it’s almost like a fraternity. Once you’re in it, you know what it takes to be a Raven. Hopefully this year, I can just go out and have fun and put that on display.

What have been your impressions of defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald?

I love Mike. He’s a great coach. He’s super intentional about how he teaches, and that’s been helpful, especially as a younger defense. Like breaking it down from the ground up and leaving no stone unturned. That’s huge for us.

And what about outside linebackers coach Rob Leonard?

Rob was my coach at the Senior Bowl the year I came out in 2020. It was great to have that [reunion] with him. That’s my guy, man. He’s a guy who pushes you. From the time I met him, he’s always trying to get the best version of me. When you have a coach that’s invested in seeing you get better, you can’t help rallying behind a guy like that.

You’re also reunited with safety Kyle Hamilton. What has that been like so far?

It’s been great to have another Notre Dame guy [and] having some familiarity. I think me and him feel like we bring each other a level of comfort because we have known each other for three-plus years. He’s coming from the same environment I came from and adjusting in Baltimore.

What was it like playing with him in games and practice? What were some things that impressed you the most about him?

His range. When he came in as a freshman, he was rangy as hell. I remember our first camp, I think he had 22 interceptions. Any guy that comes into camp and gets 22 interceptions, he’s the guy. He just covers so much because he’s 6-foot-4. It’s awesome.

What has your offseason preparation been like trying to get your body ready for the season? What are some things you have been trying to improve on?

I think one is learning how to take care of my body. In college, you really don’t learn about all the ways to make sure the thing that is making you the most money, which is your body, is in good standing.

Learning to do so by building a team around me that allows me to push the limit every day, I think that’s been the emphasis. Busting my butt, trying to get a stronger upper body. I wanted to get a little more stout so [during] first and second down, I can be more effective.

What expectations do you have for the upcoming season?

I think the sky’s the limit. It’s about proving it. Obviously, I didn’t get the chance to with injury, and that’s something I can’t control. I have the highest expectations for myself. I want to be a dominant force, I want to be a great teammate and a reliable player. I want to set it on fire because I know what I’m capable of.

Shifting from the football field, you have been active in the community since your time at Notre Dame. What does it mean to you to give help others in need?

It’s really about the platform that we have. There’s no point in really having this platform if you’re not accessible to the people you’re trying to serve.

I would train at the facility, so I wake up every day at 6 am. Wrap up my workday [around] 1:30, 2 p.m. Then I had our community relations team set up a community event, whether it be one or two a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays with organizations that they partnered with that targeted the inner-city youth. It was able to do that from Feb. 1 to May 16.

The guys that played here before were dogs on the field, but they were accessible to the community. Part of being a Raven is being a servant. That’s something that I take personally. It makes it more special when you put that “Ravens” across your chest because you know who you’re representing.

Out of all the community service that you’ve done, is there any in particular that stands out the most?

For me, it’s about the inner-city youth. It’s something that I started back at Notre Dame. Whether it be homeless shelters or teaching with kids, we kind of got to feel what was our niche as far as service. So I discovered that youth was more so my ministry.

What was your experience like volunteering at juvenile detention centers in South Bend and Baltimore City?

It was dope. They are really kind and wise kids because they’ve been exposed to different things at a younger age. That’s being a child trying to navigate those situations, which is probably why they made those mistakes, and not having somebody to put their arm around them and be like “Look, don’t go that way.”

It’s really about encouraging them and letting them know regardless of the situation that you are in right now and the mistakes that you make, it’s really how you bounce back that defines a person.

Two years ago, you hosted a rally at Notre Dame on Juneteenth. How important is it for you to use your platform to advocate for social justice and racial equality?

Why that was so special at Notre Dame was the audience. I’m a Black male [that’s] leading a rally on a Black cause on a predominantly white campus. That was important because, at that time, I was a captain going into my senior year. It had to be done and I had to be the one to do it. I’m representing the African Americans on our team. A freshman or sophomore may not have been comfortable taking that stage.

As a leader, it was my job to speak up for them. To be bold at that moment for them so they can have the confidence to express their feelings about the cause, but also have the confidence to do so moving forward. It takes one to push that envelope.

We galvanized an entire community, whether it be our basketball team, tennis team, baseball team, or hockey team. It was special having the entire community rally behind that cause in such a pivotal time. To speak up for them and say what needed to be said regardless of the pushback made that a special moment.

Down the road do you envision yourself starting your own charity foundation with your name tied to it?

Yeah, but it’s about timing. I have to build my name before I start something. Right now is establishing a foundation, being familiar with the community, and understanding the people I’m representing.


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