After scary accident, Hayden has new outlook

After scary accident, Hayden has new outlook
February 25, 2013, 8:00 am
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D.J. Hayden didn’t just replay it in his head. He watched it.

Over and over and over and over and over again … at least 100 times. “Probably 200 times,” the former cornerback from the University of Houston said.

Hayden is in Indianapolis this weekend for the annual NFL Combine. He won’t participate in any of the drills at the event but did answer questions from reporters and did meet with plenty of NFL teams.

Hayden’s injury occurred on Nov. 6, when he collided with a teammate at practice. He needed emergency surgery for a tear of the inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. It’s an injury that Hayden was told is 95 percent fatal.

Hayden might not remember exactly what happened on that early November day but he doesn’t need to. After all, he’s seen it hundreds of times since.

“It was an underthrown ball,” he said to reporters at the Combine. “We were in Cover 3. The ball was more on my side. I was running. I wasn’t going to jump, but he jumped and then he hit me and I went back and he went forward.”

While Hayden won’t participate in any drills this weekend, he said he plans to participate fully in the University of Houston pro day on March 18. And this weekend, at the time he talked to media members, Hayden had met with around 20 teams but not the local Texans.

“That would mean a lot,” Hayden said about the possibility of playing for the Texans. “I’m from Houston. I went to U of H. A lot of guys don’t get to play for their hometown team. I wouldn’t mind.”

But really Hayden’s just concerned with making it to the NFL with any team. And just the fact that he’s planning to keep playing football is amazing in itself.

While he sat there in his hospital room after surgery, watching the replay of the injury a couple hundred times, he wasn’t sure if he would ever play football again.

“The first couple days I was really depressed,” Hayden said. “I thought I’d never play football again. But the doctor told me after three or four months I should be able to play again. I was like, ‘OK. I have hope.’ But there was always doubt in my mind. I was questioning myself, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ I even questioned God because I was in a whole different state of mind.”

Hayden said his team’s chaplain Mikado Hinson had a long chat with him. Without Hinson, and without that long talk, Hayden said he wasn’t sure if he would have made it through like he did.

But he did. And for it, he’s grateful.

“I have a whole new outlook on life,” Hayden said. “All the stuff I took for granted, I don’t take for granted anymore, whether it’s family, friends, God – I’m cherishing every moment because you never know when your time is up.

“The way I’m looking at it is if you’re going to do something, do it to your fullest. If I’m going to play a game, I’m going to play my hardest the whole game. If that was my time to end, I don’t feel I finished like I finished my career the way I wanted to. I don’t feel like I played well in my last game. I just want another opportunity to play
another game and do what I can do.”

Now, Hayden will have to prove that he’s more than a good story. He has to prove that he’s still a good football player. Despite the injury, he was named an All Conference USA player.

The NFL lists Hayden at 5-11, 191 pounds but Hayden said that while he couldn’t play football, his weight dipped to 167. Hayden has been working out more recently but shortly after the surgery, he had trouble walking. He said it took “forever” to sit up straight. It’s been a long road and NFL teams will see how far he’s come when he competes at his pro day.

He said the vein is healed and his sternum is “almost 100 percent.”

Hayden has been working out with Danny Arnold of Plex, a sports training/medicine company based in the Houston area. Hayden said Arnold sometimes needs to tell him to slow down.

“I used to back pedal, do what I could do, run full speed,” Hayden said. “Him telling me to slow it down. I was just anxious to break a sweat. The first sweat I broke, I almost broke down and cried because I was just thankful I’m doing what I’m doing.”