Utes' Jon Hays happy for another chance at football
Any thoughts Jon Hays might have had that making the transition to Division I would be easy were erased during Thursday's scrimmage, when he threw three interceptions, which was just one fewer than the number of passes he completed.
But even that rocky showing has failed to dampen the spirit, or the determination, of the player slotted to step in if junior Jordan Wynn needs to be relieved as the starting quarterback.
Hays feels like a guy who was given a new life when the Utes called in the spring asking him to join the program.
He didn't hesitate at the opportunity, particularly since he was a football player suddenly without a program.
The former Butte College (Calif.) player was going to transfer to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), but the school dropped its football program in March.
The Utes, meanwhile, wanted to bring another quarterback aboard since the other options were Tyler Shreve, a freshman, and Griff Robles, a sophomore who was moved to linebacker after spring practice.
Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow learned of Hays, out of Paradise, Calif., through his coaching connections and offered him a spot with the Utes.
"When I got that phone call and knew I had a shot at coming here, I got so excited," Hays said. "I didn't know what to think when they cut the football program [at UNO], and now I'm here. It's crazy how everything worked out."
If all goes well, Hays won't have to get on the field much since the Utes don't plan to use two quarterbacks in Chow's new system as they frequently have in recent years.
However, Chow says Hays, 21, has the tools to be a capable backup because of his maturity.
"There is a big difference between 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds," Chow said. "You can see all of that with Jon. It's going to take some time for him to learn the system, but he is doing fine and he'll be ready to go."
Hays joined the Utes in June and has been on a crash course of Utah offense ever since.
"It's a great group of guys on the team, so it has been great," Hays said. "Jordan has been great helping me out with things."
Despite the rough showing in the scrimmage, the Utes are encouraged by the work they see out of Hays.
"For not being here in the spring, he has a lot on his plate with this offense because it is a pretty complicated offense," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But he is doing a nice job."
Unlike in the past, when Wynn was battling Terrance Cain for the starting role, Hays is clearly the No. 2 guy. Being a role player and never knowing when, or if, he'll get in a game is fine with him, he said. He may not have the arm that Wynn has, but he believes he can help in other ways.
"I like to run it," he said. "I had a lot of carries in high school, so I think I could help that way. Now I'm just trying to learn everything and be consistent."
Jon Hays file
• 6-0, 212, junior
• Paradise, Calif.
• Joined the Utes in the summer after University of Nebraska at Omaha dropped its program. ... Led Butte College (Calif.) to a 9-2 record in 2010. He was 118 for 218 passing for 1,823 yards and 10 TDs. He also rushed for five scores ... Played baseball in high school.