FARGO — North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz and senior cornerback Josh Hayes met Monday morning and when the conversation was finished, Hayes had accomplished everything that was expected of him in his four years at NDSU. Entz called it "checking all the boxes."
"He had unbelievable great reasons as to why," he said.
So with that, Hayes will enter the NCAA transfer portal and look to finish his career next fall at an FBS school near his hometown of Lakeland, Fla. There's more to that story, too, Entz said. Hayes has a 2-year-old daughter living in Florida who he rarely sees these days.
"He says every time he goes home, he has to reintroduce himself as dad," Entz said. "It was time for him to try and get closer and be around his daughter more."
Hayes will graduate from NDSU next month. Entz said one factor in Hayes' decision to leave was NDSU not playing a game for two weeks, and the downtime giving him some time to reflect on his future, including seeing other players in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opting out for a chance at playing for an FBS program. He saw what Jabril Cox's transfer from NDSU to LSU last season did for Cox's NFL Draft prospects, which appear to be better than what they were.
"Josh in his mind, a highly competitive individual, says why can't that be me now?" Entz said. "Good question. I think Josh is the best corner in the league."
It was just last week when Hayes was talking about the frustrations of COVID-19 testing and the leadership it takes to help the younger Bison players through the process. NDSU's last two games against South Dakota and South Dakota State were canceled and postponed, respectively, because of COVID-19 protocols in the NDSU program.
What it means is the Bison will take on Northern Iowa on Saturday without their top pass defender, a senior who said he was going to return to NDSU in the fall to help his prospects of making the next level. Moreover, at 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the Missouri Valley, the Bison are on the doorstep of another Division I FCS playoff hunt.
He played in 52 career games at NDSU, spending the first two years as a coveted backup before taking over as a starter in 2019. He was good from the get-go, starting in the 2017 FCS national title game against James Madison forcing a fumble and making three tackles.
Hayes was an all-Missouri Valley Football Conference second team pick in 2019 on a defense that led the FCS in pass defense. He had seven tackles in the FCS title game against JMU.
Hayes is the third Bison player to enter the transfer portal this spring, joining running back DJ Stewart and linebacker Juanye Tillman, but Hayes is the first player who made a difference on the field. Hayes’ entry into the portal is testament that it can happen at any moment.
He went from a Bison leader to leaving the program in short order.
“I’ve had to step into more of a guidance counselor role,” Hayes said last week. “There are a lot of young guys on our team right now, and that’s one of the things I struggled with the most, was staying focused on smaller things and not getting caught up with what’s going on with the outside world. I’ve had to try to help a few young guys in this building and this program.”
His departure means junior Destin Talbert will start opposite Jayden Price in the road game at UNI. NDSU is scheduled to host SDSU on April 17 in a game that was postponed from last weekend. True freshman Courtney Eubanks was the backup to Hayes on the depth chart.
If Hayes does end up at the FBS level, he would be the third Bison to take that route since the end of the 2019 season joining Cox and running back Adam Cofield (Western Kentucky).
"This isn't going to be the last experience we have with someone leaving or someone coming," Entz said. "It's just the way it is."