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Former Penn State LB/DE Jerome Hayes On His Time In Happy Valley, This Year's Penn State Team And More

The latest in our series of interviews with former athletes brings you a conversation with former Penn State linebacker/defensive end Jerome Hayes.

Jerome Hayes suited up for the Nittany Lions from 2005-09, and knows a thing or two about playing in major bowl games. We talked to him about his time at PSU and more.

The Spun: You were a US Army All-American with a bunch of big offers. What was the recruiting process like for you and how did you ultimately choose Penn State?

JH: The recruiting process was a tumultuous one. There are so many people pulling at you at such a young age it can become overwhelming if you don't have a great support group and fortunately I did. I ended up choosing State because it was a great atmosphere with fantastic football. Penn state was also close enough to be by my family and far enough to get away and become a man.

The Spun: Derrick Williams was the No. 1 player in the 2005 class and he went to PSU with you. Justin King was top 20. Overall, it was a well-regarded class. What were the outside and internal expectations of that group coming in?

JH: We as a group were very competitive at everything we did. Whether it was video games or weight lifting we were always competing to get better. Internally we knew we were good players but we also knew it would be the veterans like Mike Robinson and Paul Posluszny that had to lead us.

The Spun: In your five years at PSU, you went to a couple of BCS games including a Rose Bowl and won a couple of New Year's Day games. What memories stick out from your time there?

JH: The overall time spent with my teammates will always stick in my mind. Bowl games are such a great way to become closer as a team and get better as individually. Beating Florida State in the Orange Bowl in three overtimes is my most fond memory though.

The Spun: Who were the best players you played with at PSU, and who were the best opponents you had to face while you were there? ‘

JH: The best players I played with at state were Michael Robinson, Tamba Hali, NaVorro Bowman, Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee. The best players I've played against were Joe Thomas of Wisconsin, Jake Long and Mike Hart of Michigan and Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State.

The Spun: Which guys from your PSU days do you still see or keep in touch with?

JH: I see my college roommates all the time. Justin King, Lydell Sargeant, and James McDonald. I keep in touch with all my teammates through social media and text though.

The Spun: You played in the Arena League for a bit with the Philly Soul. That's a league that has been around a while and has a lot of talent in it but doesn't get a ton of pub. What was the AFL experience like for you?

JH: The AFL was a great experience that allowed me to continue to play football at a high level and pursue my passion of playing with the game I love.

The Spun: You played football your whole life, you coach it now, and your son plays it. Clearly it means a lot to you. It is also a sport that is going through a lot of scrutiny lately, with issues like concussions, CTE and player safety making a lot of headlines. Even with all that, what about the sport of football makes it something worthwhile for players, coaches and everyone involved?

JH: Football is the greatest game on earth because it translates so well to life. I tell all off my players that. The game of football teaches you discipline, sacrifice, and teamwork, which are all about things that are essential to life after football. The game is most certainly a violent one but with proper mechanics and hard work players will continue to figure out ways to play the game safer.

The Spun: Guys are always bragging about high school football and the talent that comes from their home states. Being from NJ and having played at a high level and seeing guys from all over, how does NJ high school football compare and what stands out about players from NJ?

JH: I am biased because I played NJ football and coach it now but I will say Texas and Florida football are at an amazing level when it comes to speed and agility. But if you want a hard- nosed, hardworking kid you come to New Jersey.

The Spun: As a PSU football alum, what has it been like watching this year's team? At 2-2, it didn't seem like this was a Rose Bowl-caliber team, but everything has clicked and here they are.

JH: This season has been a fun one to watch as an alum because I know that struggle that these kids faced at 2-2 and no one giving you a chance. The Penn State football team played with great heart and fought through a rough Big Ten schedule to become champions and etch their names in Penn State history.

The Spun: Last but not least: prediction for Monday's game?

JH: Penn State 31-USC 20.