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Michael Hay has seen the lowest of the low. So when the highs come, he appreciates them even more.
The Holy Cross alumnus and Syracuse offensive lineman signed an NFL free-agent contract with the St. Louis Rams April 29, a day after the draft wrapped up. His former Cross teammate Darryl Whiting also penned a deal with the Tennessee Titans, making three potential NFL players from the Flushing school next season with Dallas Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree.
For Hay, though, the journey is what makes this destination so incredible.
“You must have hit every bump in the road, but you denied the doubters and kept it going,” Cross Coach Tom Pugh told him April 30.
As a senior with the Knights, the 6-foot-5, 283-pound manchild was a highly touted prospect on one of the best teams in the city. Hay and four teammates opened the season with a bevy of Division I interest. Yet, for reasons he still doesn’t understand, none of them earned an offer by season’s end.
Hay signed with Division II C.W. Post, but a turning point in his life occurred the summer between high school and college. In a fight in his hometown of College Point, Hay was stabbed in his chest, right underneath his left arm.
The knife cut through his rib cage, punctured his stomach and diaphragm and collapsed his lung. It came dangerously close to vital organs, such as his heart. Hay was rushed to the hospital and ended up in the ICU. He lost 60 pounds after surgery and was told he wouldn’t play football again.
“That’s one of those lines that sticks with you the rest of your life, someone telling you that you can’t do something,” Hay said.
To compound matters, Hay was cuffed at the hospital that night and read his Miranda rights — he was being arrested for battery. Just hours later, his younger brother Chris was in the same hospital with a broken orbital bone he obtained during a struggle with police during his own arrest.
Hay had hit rock bottom.
“Here’s your close call,” Hay said he told himself at the time. “Re-evaluate everything and figure out what you’re doing with yourself. Do I want to be stuck in this neighborhood or do I want to realize my dreams?”
At that point, Hay dedicated himself to football. Despite a drop from 290 pounds to 230, he was in the weightroom well before he was cleared. Hay redshirted his freshman season at C.W. Post, but he felt healthy and strong enough in workouts to come to the conclusion that he could play on a higher level of football.
With transferring in mind, Hay went to Nassau Community College the following summer to enroll in classes to get a head start. He was targeting Glendale Community College as his potential destination. While on campus at Nassau, though, he ran into then-football assistant Curtis Gilliam. He convinced him to meet with then-head Coach John Anselmo. Hay did so with his mother Maria. Anselmo was convincing. Hay stayed home and went to Nassau.
“It was just a comfort level that I haven’t felt since Coach Pugh,” Hay said of Anselmo. “Me and my mother both trusted him.”
A year and a half later, Hay had his associate degree and was named an All-Northeast Football Conference second team selection. He earned a scholarship to Syracuse, where Anselmo got a job as secondary coach a year earlier.
With the Orange, Hay started all but one game in two seasons at right tackle for head Coach Doug Marrone. Following his graduation in December, Hay signed with agent Pat Lawlor and dropped everything to move to Boca Raton and train at World Class Speed upon the advice of Lawlor.
Hay’s name wasn’t called in the draft this weekend. Near the end of the seventh round, knowing he wouldn’t be taken, he left the place he was staying at in Florida and took a walk.
“I needed a little breather,” Hay said.
Maria followed him and sat him down for a talk. Getting taken in the draft, she told her son, would have exceeded expectations. Five minutes later, Hay got a text from Rams scout Russ Bolinger, whom he had met weeks earlier at a combine. Bolinger said to call him and Hay did so immediately.
“He asked me how would I like to be a St. Louis Ram?” Hay said. “I let him know that would be the opportunity of the lifetime, something I’ve been working for my entire life.”
Pugh, who is in constant contact with Hay, told him not to worry when he wasn’t selected in the draft.
“This is for the best,” Pugh said. “[The Rams] liked him. They like his attitude. He brings an edge.”
Hay will now stay in Boca and get ready for mini-camp. Six years after being rushed to ICU, Hay has a chance to play in the NFL.
“This is just the end of one chapter,” he said. “The rest of the book still needs to be written.”
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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