When McQueen High running back Ashton Hayes landed in Lincoln for his official visit at Nebraska last weekend, multiple reporters were there to greet him and ask him questions.
When he headed to the airport to fly home from his visit, media called him to see how it went with those conversations lasting so long he almost missed his flight.
College football passion is a little different in Nebraska than it is in Nevada, and that's one of the reasons Hayes committed to the Cornhuskers on Thursday afternoon.
"We got player chaperones," Hayes said on Friday's NSN Daily. "I hung with one of their top starters, Cam Taylor-Britt, who plays safety up there. We were just walking around the street and everybody was yelling his name, saying, 'What's up, Cam? What's up, Cam?' It was crazy. You're literally a celebrity there, and they told me they've pretty much sold out every game game since 1960. It's 378 consecutive games. And that's 93,000 strong just to let you know how crazy that fan base is."
Hayes said that kind of fan support was among his top reasons for picking Nebraska over Cal, where he also took an official visit. With the NCAA on the verge of implementing name, image and likeness rules that would allow college athletes to financially capitalized on their success, there aren't many better places to do so than the Nebraska football program.
"With the new name, image and likeness coming out, you can start to make money off your jersey number, off your name, and what better place to do that than a place that doesn't have any other competition?" Hayes said.
His decision didn't just boil down to that. A long-time nutrition freak, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Hayes was blown away by the Cornhuskers' infrastructure to get the best out of its athletes.
"For me, the big thing, as you guys have written on before, is the diet, the nutrition, the weight-lifting program, and I had been on a couple of Zoom calls before going up to Lincoln, so I had an idea of things," Hayes said. "But when I actually went there, they scanned my body and let me know how much mass you can gain and how ready you're going to be in this amount of time and how serious they take the diet. They have a 24-hour training table where you can make your own meals. They have, like, this Chipotle line and everything in there. That was a really big shock to me. I didn't know a college could have something like that. That being a No. 1 decision factor and that being so well taken care of there, that's where I want to be."
Hayes also believes he'll be a good fit in Nebraska's offense, which emphasizes the running game. Under the direction of head coach Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers ran the ball 59.4 percent of the time last season. Hayes, a three-star recruit and the No. 32-ranked running back in the 2022 class, said Nebraska will leverage his versatility
"They came to me asking me to go ahead and perform a bunch of different things," Hayes said. "They wanted me to kick return, punt return. Coach Frost even asked me if I'd be on the kickoff team. They want me to play a big role, which is very humbling for me because having a coach that's seen so much NFL talent, to ask me to play multiple positions for his team and believe in me so much was really humbling and really awesome, honestly. As far as the running back goes, they want to use me kind of like how Damonte Ranch used me. Kind of spread me out, be able to play receiver, be able to play running back.
"My coach, Coach (Ryan) Held, said he didn't really want another body. He wants a playmaker and somebody who's electric and can make those plays and get it done."
Hayes said Nebraska's academic profile also played a role. Hayes went on an official visit to Cal the week before his trip to Nebraska and wanted to go to a school that was elite academically. Hayes also took unofficial visits to Oregon and Oregon State, and while he could have taken three more official visits before making a decision, he didn't want to wait after his trip to Lincoln.
"Obviously with the COVID year, there are a lot less (scholarship) spots," Hayes said. "You do want to lock in a little bit sooner than normal. I still could have taken all five of my visits. I took the recruiting process a little bit different. I made a depth chart as (scholarship offers) came in and worked it up to a top three, a top four, a top five when they started coming in. I really narrowed it down to a top two because academics were also a big factor. One thing a lot of people don't know about Nebraska is they have the most Academic All-Americans, including Stanford, Notre Dame, Penn State, all these top-end schools. That was another factor. I really narrowed it down to those two (Cal and Nebraska) and got those two visits locked in."
Hayes said getting the chance to visit Nebraska in person played a big role in his decision. The NCAA recently lifted official visit restrictions that were in place during the pandemic. While a long way from Reno, Hayes said the area reminded him of his original home.
"I'm originally from Erie, Penn.," Hayes said. "I moved out here when I was 11. I was really surprised to see the similarities between Erie, P.A., and Lincoln, Neb. It kind of reminded me of my childhood, it reminded me of home. I got that good feeling from that. A great community. Everybody is wearing their Huskers T-shirt no matter where you go. I felt like that was another factor in my decision, and I felt like this was home."
With his college decision behind him, Hayes is focused on having a great senior season at McQueen, where he transferred last season after two years at Damonte Ranch High. Hayes had a spectacular sophomore season, rushing for 2,429 yards, 8.9 yards per carry and 30 touchdowns in 2019. Last season, Hayes gained 607 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns in five games. He wants to get off to a better start this year and has set the goal of breaking Nevada's single-season high school rushing record (3,143 yards) set by Bishop Manogue's Peyton Dixon in 2018.
"Me and my lineman have been working out together because we had such a slow start last year," Hayes said. "We really want to capitalize on that next year and have a good season and hopefully be Northern Nevada contenders for that state championship, which is what all of our goals are. I'm really trying to work toward that this year and really solidify it. My personal goals, I really want to chase my sophomore record and hopefully chase Peyton Dixon's record because I want to be named the best ever to do it here."
You can watch Ashton Hayes' full NSN Daily interview below.