How USC’s Hayes Pullard put himself in a position of power
Projecting a prospect’s potential often leads to a lot of calculated guesswork.
The man-hours that go into one selection almost can’t be quantified. Every year, scouts are tasked with writing reports, stemming from visits and watching film. Those reports play a minutia of the role that ultimately goes into the general manager’s decision.
Thirty-two teams head to Indianapolis for this week’s annual NFL Combine to interview players, conduct medical evaluations and clock notable measurements. Those often are much more than height, weight, speed and football IQ. One characteristic that’s not able to be measured is what every team is looking for: Intangibles.
Nobody knows what they look like, but everyone recognizes them when you see it. Certain traits such as leadership, enthusiasm and desire might suggest some semblance of the "it" factor. But, really, it’s anybody’s guess.
Former USC linebacker Hayes Pullard, along with six of his college teammates, will attend this week’s festivities. Shortly after Pullard’s performance in the Holiday Bowl, he flew to Bommarito Performance, a training center in Davie, Fla., where he’s been preparing himself physically.
These days are planned well in advance and with great detail. From the organic-based meals to the intensity of workouts, which are designed to make a player peak for four days in February.
"It’s definitely a grind," Pullard said. "Something that you have to embrace. It’s two to four months of eating healthy, making the body your temple and training like a pro."
Becoming a pro is something that this six-foot, 235-pound running back-turned-linebacker always desired. Unsurprisingly, the two-time captain at USC showed traits of acting like a professional early on.
"He had a lot of good leadership qualities, I’ll tell you that," Pullard’s high school coach Robert Garrett said. "Aside from most kids, Hayes was always doing the right thing. For example, he would come early and stay late. If I didn’t give scouting reports, he would require them so he could study the opponent’s tendencies."
Garrett’s 25-year career at Crenshaw High School has included coaching active NFL players Brandon Mebane (Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle), Marcus Martin (San Francisco 49ers guard) and De’Anthony Thomas (Kansas City Chiefs running back). It’s especially impressive as the school is located in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, where drugs, gangs and violence run rampant.
"I talk to him probably twice a week," Pullard said. "He keeps me humble and is like a father figure. He adds on to the things I need to work on and is never satisfied with my progression. As a person that wants to get great, you have to continue to get better. The little things become the big things."
Pullard was recruited to USC by former head coach Pete Carroll and ex-Trojans assistant Ken Norton Jr. When Carroll announced his departure for the NFL in 2009, assistant head coach Ed Orgeron took over the recruitment duties.
During the five years at Southern Cal, Pullard played for four different coaches, stood tall during the sanctions and bowl bans and felt the wrath of playing on a team with a loss of scholarships.
"We kept fighting … no matter what," Pullard said. "That really shows that we don’t back down. It shows the loyalty, dedication and desire that we have. We laid a good foundation for the future."
We kept fighting … no matter what. That really shows that we don’t back down. It shows the loyalty, dedication and desire that we have.
Pullard remembers years after arriving to USC, safety T.J. McDonald told him that he needed to embrace the leadership role. For a team that was going through some unforeseen conditions, one of the longstanding traditions is to pass the baton of being a leader. At first, Pullard was cautious because he wasn’t the most vocal. Instead, he began leading by example.
"Everyone looked at me like, ‘Wow, how is he able to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and dominate in all the drills," Pullard remembered. "It’s the self-motivation that drives me as a person. I don’t need nobody else pushing me. I’m always able to accept coaching but I’m the type of guy that once someone tells me something I get it. I put effort towards everything that I do. Guys see that and they tend to grab onto that."
After redshirting the 2010 season with a knee injury, Pullard became a four-year starter. This past year, he became the first defender since Dennis Johnson in 1977-79 to lead USC in tackles for three straight seasons. At last month’s Senior Bowl, Pullard was impressive during the week in drills, displaying good instincts, toughness and physicality.
"I think he’s a natural leader coming from Crenshaw with Coach Garrett," Orgeron, now LSU’s defensive line coach, said. "He has those leadership qualities. When I recruited him, I got to meet his mother. She’s a great lady and he was raised the right way. He learned from the older guys and took a lot of pride in being a Trojan. He listened very well. He was always working with a smile and always working hard in the weight room."
No detail is too fine for Pullard to turn his attention to. Being productive means doing the little things properly and practicing good technique. Hand placement, eye control and having a good first step are a priority. Understanding what angles and when to take them assisted him in making tackles.
"He’s a very fierce competitor," Orgeron said. "Hayes had a burn deep inside his belly to be great. It meant a lot to him to wear the Trojan uniform especially being the quarterback of our defense. He’s smart, always studied and knew all the checks. Hayes is going to shine in those interviews. When they put up the defense, they’ll see the intangibles that he has."
Despite all of the credentials and a spotless background, Pullard has widely been projected as a mid-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Without the towering frame, some teams might tend to overlook him. That’s why this week’s opportunity in front of the bright lights is a chance for Pullard to create a buzz.
"I want to prove to everyone that whatever time people have down on me, I’m going to run faster than they think," Pullard said. "I’m doing the shuttle [run] faster than they think. Some say I can’t move laterally or backpedal, but I want to show them I can. I want to dominate everything out there."
For as much of the unknowns as there are in evaluating talent, there is still one thing that you can bank on.
"You still have to measure the heart," Pullard paused. "At the end of the day, you can’t time the cheetah until he chases the gazelle. So you have to go out there and be able to play."