Defensive end Reggie Hayward is entering his ninth season in the NFL and fifth season with the Jaguars. Hayward joined the club as an unrestricted free agent in 2005 after playing four seasons with the Denver Broncos.
The former Iowa State standout has played in 91 games with 58 starts and registered 38.5 career sacks. Hayward sat down recently with jaguars.com to discuss his career, injuries that forced him to miss time two of the last three years, the prospects for 2009 and his plans for life after football.
You're entering your ninth season in the NFL. How is the body holding up?
"It's feeling good. We have a new strength and conditioning coach, Luke Richesson, this year and I feel good. It's one of those things where the body feels good, the mind feels good and I'm excited about this year."
You arrived in Jacksonville as a highly-touted free agent in 2005 after four seasons with Denver. You wasted no time making an impact with the Jaguars, producing 8.5 sacks in your first season. Then you missed 19 games the next two seasons with injuries. How frustrating was it not being able to build off the early success?
"It was frustrating but there are only two ways to look at things. You can either say it is frustrating and I wish I could have done this or that, or you can say I had the injury and let me get back on track. That has always been my attitude. I'm trying to get back on track and trying to get past it. I'm not going to dwell on the injury. It happens. A lot of great players get hurt and a lot of players with potential get hurt. It's all a mindset about how you are going to get back healthy, how are you going to get back to the standard of play you are used to."
How hard was the rehab after you tore your Achilles tendon?
"It was very difficult. It's not easy to rupture a major tendon and expect to not go through the pain, guts and tears to get back on the field. I had to push myself mentally."
You were very honest with the media in saying it was going to take time for you to recover. A lot of people credited you with being honest about the severity of the injury.
"I wanted to be honest with the fans. It was going to be an uphill battle and I wanted people to know that I wouldn't be able to come in here and do some of the things I was previously able to do because the injury had set me back. I also wanted them to know that I was determined and still am to get back to that level."
You played in all 16 games last year for the first time as a Jaguar. Was that a big boost of confidence?
"No. It just felt good. Last year was a solid year for me. I missed a lot of plays and I'm not making excuses, but I saw some things where my stats could have been better. I could have had more of a standout season and that is very encouraging. So this year's it's about making that extra additional play each game."
Defensive ends are really known for their sacks. Does it bother you that sacks really dictate who gets noticed on a national level?
"That's the name of the business. Wide receivers are known by catches and not the phenomenal blocks that they do downfield for the running backs. It's the name of the game and I respect that. If that is what it takes for me to excel then that is what I'm willing to do."
It seems every year certain teams talk about not getting respect on the national level. Is it true that respect is earned in the postseason?
"It's the right way. Respect is earned and not given. To get respect you have to beat good teams in crucial situations like the playoffs. The more respect you earn goes hand in hand with the more games you win and the tougher opponents you beat, especially in the playoffs.
The defense didn't play up to standards last year. What does this defense have to do to get back to the level people are used to around here?
"Just focus on our job. Everyone slow it down and do their job. Stay focused. I think we lost focus because we got behind the eight ball a little last year and we started trying to overcompensate a little and do more things that were not our individual jobs. People were trying to help so much that they were hurting the team. You can do that. We just need to get back to everybody focusing in on their job, doing their job as best they can, and then as a unit we will come together to get back to playing great football."
The club drafted two defensive ends in the first two rounds in 2008 in Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves. How do you see their development after one season?
"I see a future for them in the NFL. Both guys are working hard and they are highly talented. It's a long road. I'm not going to say it's going to be an easy road because nothing is guaranteed, but I am going to say they have a chance. They have more than a foot in the door and they have the opportunity to have some longevity in this game. What they do with the opportunity is solely based upon them. I encourage them and I try to push them to do everything they can."
Did you ever imagine you would play nine years in the NFL when you came out of Iowa State in 2001?
"You have to be blessed and talented. My first year I was saying I would be done at 30 (years old); now I'm 30 and feel like I can play six more years. When I first came into the league, the older guys would tell me to say I was going to play 15 or 16 years and try to get to 11 or 12. Always overshoot and be blessed with everything you get. I've always thought in my mind to play 16 or 17 years and right now I'm at nine so we will see how far I can go."
You have 38.5 career sacks. Do you remember all of them?
"Not every one of them but I remember quite a few.
What are the ones you remember?
"They weren't the most impressive sacks but it's who you sack. I have sacked Peyton (Manning) and Brett Favre. The greater the quarterback the more memorable the sack is. It's not like they were game-changing plays, but I remember Rich Gannon, some of the greater names that have played the game."
One of your more memorable plays had to be your only career interception in 2004 at New Orleans as a member of the Broncos. You returned it 76 yards before you were stopped at the two-yard line. Why didn't you score?
"That was fun. I didn't score. I was dead tired. It wasn't the run that had me extremely exhausted. It was a long play drive. If I recall we were about 11 or 12 plays into the drive, then I picked the ball off at the 30-yard line. I was exhausted before I even caught the ball. I started running downfield and I was lagging. I got caught."
You have played in a lot of different stadiums in your career. What is your favorite opposing stadium to play in?
"Kansas City. The fans are so loud and it's a sea of red. They are on top of you. They are there when it's cold and they haven't had a ton of success. I don't want to say our fans aren't devoted. I would never knock our fans. It's just amazing the support they (Kansas City) show their team."
You grew up in Chicago and played in Denver. How have you adjusted to living in Jacksonville?
"Jacksonville is good for me. It's perfect weather. Jacksonville has taught me how to enjoy life without being in the spotlight. I enjoy taking a ride on my motorcycle around 210 and seeing the trees, Ponte Vedra, the ocean and just really soaking in the nature and wildlife while getting away from the hustle of a big city."
Some players retire early and some play until they physically can't do it anymore. How much longer do you want to play?
"Until the wheels fall off. I'm having fun and I'm enjoying it. I didn't expect to come this far, so why stop now?"
It would be wrong of me to not ask how a player of your size was the punter for your high school team in Chicago.
"It was lack of talent on the team. My longest punt was about 35 yards."
As your career begins to wind down, what are some things you want to accomplish away from football?
"I'm a dreamer. I have so many different aspirations of somehow getting on radio or television and being able to talk about football instead of actually playing it."
Would the job have to be around the game of football?
"Not necessarily. I love the game but it doesn't necessarily have to be football. It needs to be something that intrigues me. I like to talk, so why not get paid for it?"