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Hayward’s Comeback Story Continues Vs. Bucs

Posted Nov 15, 2014

Redskins linebacker Adam Hayward suits up Sunday against his former Buccaneers teammates for the first time, but he’s had a long, winding and, at times, treacherous road to D.C.

Sometimes, your greatest comebacks don’t happen on the football field.

For Washington Redskins linebacker Adam Hayward, his journey to the NFL is one of perseverance and dealing with adversity, but also taking his past and using it to better other people’s futures.

Born in Long Beach, but raised in Westminster, Calif., Hayward was born into a Navy family and grew up on a naval base. Just wanting to be outside, he worked on a ranch while also participating in extreme sports.

“My parents’ best friends owned a ranch, and during the summers, I would work on the ranch,” said Hayward, a hunting enthusiast. “I did everything. I was a sponsored rollerblader.”

At the age of 6, Hayward put on the shoulder pads for the first time.

“I played for the Westminster Lions and grew up playing football,” he said. “That’s all my friends wanted to do around there, any sport, really. Back in the day, you wanted to get outside.”

Developing into a star at Marina High School, Hayward received two-time all-league and All-Region honors. Finishing with 90 tackles (10 for loss), six sacks and five forced fumbles as a senior, he headed for Colorado State.

But three years into his time with the Rams, Hayward’s mother – who had been diagnosed with breast cancer when he was in high school – lost her battle with the disease. She was just 51 years old.

Despite the fact his coaches at Colorado State were more than willing to have Hayward back for another year, the linebacker felt that he needed to take some time off to grieve his loss. He left the program, and then left Colorado State altogether.

Then Hayward hit rock bottom.

“After losing my mom to breast cancer, I quit football,” he recalled. “I tried to drink and do drugs and tried to kill myself.”

Fortunately, Hayward was eventually able to climb out of the depths of his depression.

A year after the death of his mother, Hayward decided to turn his loss into fuel for a return to the gridiron.

“It was what made my mom proud of me the most,” Hayward said. “Definitely, it’s for my mom. Before every game, I kneel at the 50 yard line, pray and talk to her.”

In 2005, Hayward suited up for Portland State, an FCS program where he played linebacker and special teams the next two seasons, and he started having fun on the football field again.

“I started playing, having fun and things went well,” he said. “It was fun just being able to go back and start playing and being able to enjoy the game again.”

While he admitted that he wasn’t thinking about going pro, Hayward was establishing himself as a professional prospect with his on-field performance. In two seasons, he recorded 123 tackles, 11 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

In April of 2007, Hayward, with his close friends and family at his side, received the call that every NFL prospect dreams of. On this day, it was Redskins’ current head coach Jay Gruden’s brother, Jon – the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – on the other end of the line.

“I was in my big brother’s house in Murrieta, Calif.,” he said. “It was amazing. You get the phone call and Jay’s brother Jon was the head coach at the time. He said, ‘Hey, how would you like to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer?’”

With the 182nd-overall pick in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, the Buccaneers selected Hayward. Over the next seven seasons, he grew to become one of the team’s top role players.

Earning the “C” on his jersey as the team’s special teams captain in 2011, Hayward served in that role for the next three seasons before joining Washington as an unrestricted free agent this past March. With the Buccaneers, he recorded 161 total tackles, including a career-high 20 special teams tackles in 2010.

Hayward – who still keeps in touch with current Buccaneers like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and punter Mike Koenen – said at one point he thought he would retire a Buccaneer. Although that plan hasn’t exactly panned out, Hayward said he fondly remembers his time in Tampa Bay, and is ready to suit up against his former team Sunday.

“It meant a lot to me,” he said. “I thought I was going to play there forever. I took a lot of stuff from there, especially community stuff and how important special teams were from having certain coaches that it meant a lot to.”

While his impact can be felt every Sunday on the field, Hayward wants to be sure to leave his mark off of it, as well – especially for those coping with and battling a disease that took someone so close to him.

In Tampa Bay, Hayward often made a point to speak to families that were affected by breast cancer to some degree. Now in Washington, he continues to do just that.

With the Redskins, Hayward has already been active in the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation’s breast cancer outreach efforts. To kick off the month of October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – he joined several other teammates in a night of celebration as they welcomed 31 survivors to Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.

“They’d come to me with all sorts of things and I told them, ‘If there’s anything, just let me know,’” he said. “I’m an open door and it’s hard for me to speak about sometimes, but I’m not going to not speak about it if it can help somebody.”

RELATED LINKS:
-- Redskins-Buccaneers: 4 Keys To The Game
-- Adam Hayward On ‘Redskins Late Night’

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