Former North Dakota State Standout Cornerback Josh Hayes Transferring To Virginia

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Josh Hayes, who was part of three FCS national champion teams at North Dakota State, is transferring to Virginia. ~ Photo courtesy of North Dakota State Athletics

Virginia football has added another potential starter to one of its biggest positional question marks heading into the 2021 season. Former North Dakota State standout cornerback Josh Hayes has signed a grant-in-aid with the Cavaliers, UVA football head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced on Saturday (April 24).

Hayes will graduate from North Dakota State this spring before transferring to Virginia, where he will spend his final season of eligibility.

A native of Lakeland, Florida, Hayes attended Lake Gibson High School before moving on to North Dakota State. He played in 52 games with the Bison, earning 22 straight starts spanning the 2019 and 2020/2021 seasons. As a junior in 2019, the 5’11”, 185-pound Hayes totaled 59 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and two interceptions on his way to earning All-Missouri Valley Conference Second-Team honors.

North Dakota State captured the FCS national championship in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Hayes made plays in all three championship games. Against JMU in 2017, the then-true freshman had three solo tackles and one forced fumble. Hayes finished with two tackles, including one tackle for loss, and a pass breakup against Eastern Washington in 2018. Playing JMU again in 2019, Hayes recorded seven tackles, including five solo efforts and 1.5 tackles for loss, and a pass breakup with the title on the line.

North Dakota State is in the FCS playoffs this spring but has been without Hayes since a game six victory over North Dakota. The standout senior, who had 30 tackles (13 solo) and three pass breakups in six games (one last fall and five this spring), put his name in the transfer portal on April 5, after NDSU had a game cancelled due to COVID-19.

“He sees other guys in our league opting out right now and getting offers from Power Five,” NDSU head coach Matt Entz said in this April 5 press conference. Hayes had informed Entz that morning of his decision to leave the program. “And I’ll tell you what, I think Josh is the best corner in the league, so you take it for what it’s worth. So he’s seeing other people reap the rewards of leaving. You take that a step farther, he saw one of our former players – Jabril Cox – go to LSU. Jabril was a fourth or fifth round draft pick when he was at NDSU, and now he’s a top 60 kid. And he’s earned it. Josh in his mind, highly competitive individual, says why can’t that be now? Good question.”

Hayes, who Entz described as a “leader of our program,” has his opportunity to compete in a Power 5 conference. The Virginia pass defense has been a weak link for the past season-and-a-half, and cornerback is a need the coaches have been looking to address from the start of the offseason, even after 2020 returning starters Nick Grant and De’Vante Cross announced they were returning next season. Cross has moved back to safety, where he is most comfortable. Grant has been solid but not spectacular.

Coach Mendenhall and company began addressing the need by landing Louisville grad-transfer Anthony Johnson, who enrolled in February and has taken part in spring practice. Additionally, senior Darrius Bratton is playing well and with confidence, something he did not exhibit this past season while returning from a torn ACL suffered in 2019 preseason camp. With Hayes on board, Bratton re-emerging, and Johnson in the program, the Hoos have a good group of upperclassmen to compete for the starting corner spots in 2021. Ideally, some of the younger talent will start to emerge as well.

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