Geno Hayes, who played linebacker at Florida State from 2005-07 and in the NFL for a few seasons, passed away late Monday night from liver disease. Hayes, 33, had been in hospice care and was living with his parents in Valdosta, Ga.
A standout at Madison County, Hayes made 156 tackles and eight sacks in three seasons at FSU. He was named to the All-ACC first team in 2007, when he had 80 tackles and five sacks. Hayes also had a memorable interception return of BC’s Matt Ryan for a touchdown that sealed the Seminoles’ upset of the No. 2 Eagles in 2007.
“He was raised on Boot Hill-type football,” said Mickey Andrews, who was FSU’s defensive coordinator from 1984-2009. “Anybody that comes out of Madison County is always a hard-nosed great effort guy. Geno was that. He was a very dependable player, worked hard and was a team player. Those are qualities that you look for. Just sad to see a young man of his age pass like that. We’re not promised anything about how long we’re going to live. But we’ll miss Geno.”
Madison County coach Mike Coe was an assistant when Hayes played for the Cowboys and remembered him fondly.
“Geno loved to laugh and clown, but he was very, very intelligent! Just to see the growth in him from high school to college, then NFL and then the daddy he was,” Coe said. “The smile his kids put on his face. He was such a great teammate too. His team loved him and he always enjoyed playing ball here with his ‘boys.’ He was just a special, special young man and it is just heartbreaking to see his kids have to go through this.”
Hayes went on to play in the NFL from 2008-14 with Tampa Bay, Chicago and Jacksonville. He had 401 tackles and six interceptions, including a career-best 98 tackles in 2009 with the Buccaneers.
Last week, Hayes described his frequent hospitalizations and weight loss as well as the liver failure diagnosis with ESPN.com.
Nicholson remembers his roommate
Derek Nicholson and Hayes were part of FSU’s 2005 signing class. They often talked about their future, goals in life and on the field.
“Geno was able to accomplish those goals,” Nicholson said. “He had a beautiful wife and two lovely kids. Those goals and those dreams we always talked about on Friday nights. For him to leave us so soon, it still hurts.”
Nicholson was not able to make it back to Valdosta, Ga., to see Hayes but spoke to him on FaceTime in the last few days. Hayes tried to keep his illness private until recently, and Nicholson said most people would not have known it because Hayes’ nature was to be positive.
“He had a vibrant personality,” Nicholson said. “An unbelievable personality. Always had a smile on his face, never had a bad moment. He had an infectious personality. A guy that you always wanted to be around.”
Nicholson said he and FSU players want to take time to “celebrate the legacy” of Hayes and reinforce to his son and daughter who his dad was, how much he meant to people.
“As a football family we need to make sure they know who he was,” Nicholson said. “Geno loved people. He loved people and connecting with people that may not have been just like he was. That’s the type of personality he was.”
Social media reflects on Hayes
Reflections from coaches at FSU and Madison County as well as Seminoles players poured in on social media and a few are below. (You can also listen to a short audio interview between Hayes, myself and Tim Linafelt during the 2014 season here.)