USC team captain Hayes Pullard, an inside linebacker for the Trojans, is the player media swarms for a quote after a controversial occurrence; the 6’1” 215-pound redshirt senior is the veteran who has assumed a leadership role. Despite being such a stable force to the USC football program, the only constant in Pullard’s collegiate journey has been change.
In the 2013-14 season alone, the Trojans endured three head coaches and yet pulled out a 10-win season.
“I got hit in the jaw, stomach, nose and cried a little bit, but I still kept fighting,” Pullard said on last season. “You’re going to take some punches in life and you have to keep throwing punches.”
That resiliency has allowed Pullard much success throughout his football career. THe Inglewood native matriculated through schools around Los Angeles and by the time he reached high school age, it was already decided that he would be a Crenshaw Cougar.
“I asked my Dad, ‘Why would I go to Crenshaw?’ He told me, ‘All the boys in our family went to Crenshaw and all the girls go to Hamilton.’”
Pullard joined the Crenshaw football team under head coach Robert Garrett who groomed his team to insure his players understood the value of brotherhood and operating as a unit. When the Cougars began JV practice that year, Pullard had reinforcement supporting him from the sidelines.
“My dad used to stand in the exact same spot at the stadium whether it was a home or away game or just practice,” Pullard said with a smile. In his junior year at Crenshaw, his dad passed away. By the time he was a senior, he was leading the Cougars to a CIF Los Angeles City Section title alongside current NFL players De’Anthony Thomas (Bengals) and Marcus Martin (49ers).
“It was competitive,” Pullard said. “Having a lot of guys who are in the NFL now that you had to battle against every single day, which got each individual better.”
Crenshaw High School, at the time, was a feeder school to the UCLA football program. Naturally, “I was a Bruin for my whole high school career with guys like Reggie Carter, Brian Price and Raymond Carter who I looked up to that were Crenshaw babies going to UCLA,” said Pullard. “By the time I got older and much wiser I started looking into degree wise and football wise and seeing who were the NFL prospects.”
Just before national signing day, Pullard made a call to Ken Norton, former UCLA linebacker and at the time the USC assistant defensive coach, about whether he should go to UCLA or USC. The same day former USC head coach Pete Carroll announced he was leaving the program for Seattle and Norton was leaving with him. “[Coach] Ken led me to USC”, Pullard recounts.
Since his formal commitment to USC, change escalated. In 2010, the NCAA handed down sanctions to USC, including a two year bowl ban when Pullard was a mere freshman. Halfway through his freshman year, he suffered a knee sprain that caused him to redshirt that year. Following the season, he had knee surgery and returned to the team the next season in rare form.
In the 2011 season, Pullard tied for the team-lead in tackles starting at weak side linebacker. He had an encore performance in 2012 as one of two players to tally 100-plus tackles in a single season since 1996.
He muses about playing under three USC head football coaches in the span of a year and a few position coaches. After last season, it was assumed that Pullard would join his former teammates and declare for the 2014 NFL draft. He said that many factors went into his decision. Although, he was tempted to leave behind four years of hard work and changes he made a promise to his mom, Sharon Pullard.
“Before leaving high school I promised my mom I would graduate from college, so that was number one,” Pullard said. “Second, I just love that team. Everybody says we battled through so much that’s what made this brotherhood so tight like you can’t leave a group of men like that.”
As Pullard elected to return to USC and go to war with his teammates for one final season, he was also elected team captain for the second consecutive year.
The Trojans are 2-1 to start this season after a loss to Boston College. Pullard only played half the game as a result of a half-game suspension. In the Trojans’ win against Stanford, Pullard was ejected for targeting Stanford’s Ty Montgomery out of bounds after the play.
It was clear just how much of an impact, Pullard has on the Trojans defense and overall momentum as they seemed stifled by the strong run game Boston college played. He rejoined his teammates for the second half of the Boston College game and his presence was felt immediately.
Despite a minor setback in the Trojans game plan, the Trojans return to the Los Angeles Coliseum to take on the Oregon State Beavers.
For Pullard, the biggest change is yet to come as the 2015 NFL draft looms before him. Multiple scouting reports describe Pullard as an explosive player known for making plays near the line of scrimmage. His strength and speed have overshadowed his undersized stature. Pullard will likely join many of his former USC and Crenshaw teammates in the NFL this coming May.
“Every time I think about it my mom slaps me across my forehead,” said Pullard. “She wants me to stay focused and not worry about it. When that time comes it will come full force and just continue to have.”
As a self-proclaimed mama’s boy, he will take his mother’s advice and focus on the Oregon State matchup this week. The No. 18 Trojans have had time to regroup from the shocking Boston College loss coming off a bye week.