Gump's 'amazing journey' adds another chapter with Redblacks
While the Ottawa Redblacks try to figure out a way to shake a slump that’s seen them lose seven of their past eight games, while they try to claw back in a CFL season that’s been slipping away, there are still some good things happening on the football field.
So rather than focus on the bad, let’s talk about the good. One of the bright spots during the past few weeks has been the emergence of defensive back De’Chavon Hayes. But we don’t have to call him De’Chavon – nobody does, except family. Yep, nearly everybody calls him Gump.
“I got the nickname in sixth or seventh grade,” explained Hayes. “I was outside playing one day and somebody said, ‘You’ve got Forrest Gump speed.’ From that day forward, everybody’s just been calling me Gump – it stuck with me. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to it – it wasn’t a big deal. But after awhile, I figured it was a good thing – Forrest Gump was fast, I’m a fast guy, so it kind of fits.”
Hayes was raised by his father Ricardo, who got custody of Gump when he was three. Ricardo was 21 when the kid was born. A supervisor for Coca-Cola, Ricardo lives in Richmond, Va., and has always had his son’s back.
“That’s my best friend, my brother, my right-hand man – all of that,” said Hayes. “He knows everything about me. He took on the responsibility (of raising me). It was big for me – growing up and having him in my life, teaching me about the dos and don’ts of life.”
Hayes, now 27, was a running back coming out of high school. He started at a junior college – Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania – rated by Rivals.com as the second best junior college running back prospect. After transferring to Arizona State in 2014, he became a defensive back in his senior year.
“It wasn’t tough (to switch) because I was always an athlete,” said Hayes. “I played DB in high school, I played some in junior college. So it wasn’t that much of a difference. I felt like it was a great transition.”
Along the way, he was with the Arizona Cardinals in pre-season of 2017 and was a Calgary Stampeder in 2018. He was signed by the Redblacks July 22.
“When (Arizona) released me, I was just sitting at home, I was sick at first,” he said. “I was going through it, ‘Man, I can’t believe they released me.’ Calgary called and wanted to bring me in, but I prolonged the situation hoping another NFL team would pick me up. That didn’t happen. Then I was with Calgary last season.
“It’s been an amazing journey. You always have your highs and lows, you second guess yourself. The tough part is waiting. It’s tough when you hear no. People say you’re too small, you’re not big enough. I have to prove those people wrong and let them know I can play with the best of them, you always have to keep your head high.
“When you get the call, you have to take advantage of it. Tomorrow is never promised – one minute you could be here, the next minute you could be gone. I’m just trying to play ball, be the best I can be and help make those around me better.”
“(Hayes) is a very promising player,” said Redblacks coach Rick Campbell. “We’ve had a couple of new DBs step up. You can see them get better as they understand the game. (Hayes) has quick feet, he’s willing to be physical and tackle – he looks like a guy that’s definitely got potential to play in this league.”
Now, with the Redblacks trying to chase down a playoff position, hoping they swing their season in a different direction, beginning Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) at home against the Toronto Argos, Hayes is hoping he can help do what’s needed – in two games in an Ottawa uniform, he’s got eight tackles.
“The season’s not going so well, but I feel like we can turn around and I can play a part in that on the defensive side,” he said. “I bring speed, versatility and ball skills.”
IN AND OUT: The Redblacks could have some newcomers in the lineup this week. Receiver Jerminic Smith (Iowa and Southwest Baptist) got plenty of first-team reps at practice Thursday so it looks like Caleb Holley is out of the lineup. Jeff Knox Jr. took first-team reps at middle linebacker which could mean that Jerod Fernandez is out. Defensive back Corey Tindal could be back in. Offensive lineman Stephane Nembot was out Thursday, with Evan Johnson shifting to right tackle and Philippe Gagnon playing left guard. Said Campbell: “There are going to be some changes, obviously we don’t have to declare that today. (Nembot) is coming around, but we want to make sure we line up with all the Canadians to make sure we’re good to go. (Nembot) is definitely one that could be an option. (Smith) is a definite possibility. We wanted to give him these three days to make sure he knows what he’s doing. We definitely like his ability, he’s a a smart guy that’s picked things up pretty quickly. (Fernandez) got banged up in practice on Day 1, he’s another guy we’re hoping comes around quick enough (to play Saturday).”
THE END AROUND: So far this season, the Redblacks are 1-4 at home – their lone win at TD Place a 44-41 nailbiter over Saskatchewan. But Campbell said the return home for Saturday’s game should provide a boost. “It should be a great advantage – this is a great place to play and our fans are awesome,” he said. “That’s never lost on me, I love home games. We just need to make sure we play good football, whether it’s home or away or after a bye or after a short week.” … The WOW Item of the Game Saturday is the Two Foot Street Taco – available at the Smoking Pig on the South Main Concourse and the Glebe Grill on the North Upper Concourse … Ottawa is favoured by 5 1/2 over the Argos. Even though the Redblacks are facing a team that’s won just once all season, it still sounds like a lot of points to give a team that’s been unable to find its groove offensively … LB/special teamer Kevin Francis could return from the six-game injured list as early as Saturday. Another guy who could return soon is WR Rafael Araujo-Lopes, possibly next week in Vancouver.