Albert Lea senior Hayden Johnston started getting his name out to colleges early in his high school career. It was a long wait, but when the North Dakota State offered him last summer, Johnston didn’t hesitate. He committed before his…
Albert Lea senior Hayden Johnston started getting his name out to colleges early in his high school career. It was a long wait, but when the North Dakota State offered him last summer, Johnston didn’t hesitate. He committed before his senior year began. With the decision behind him, he was able to focus on enjoying his senior year.
“The recruiting process is a long one,” Johnston said. “It started when I was a freshman when I started to reach out to colleges, sending them emails even though they couldn’t reply. I was sending them film and just trying to get in front of them. As soon as I was able to contact the coaches, I started getting game day invites and getting a little more attention. It is a long process, but it was worth it.”
One of the reasons Johnston picked the Bison is an obvious one – their success.
“The winning culture is a big factor. It is going to be a big factor for anyone looking to go there. It is also the mentality NDSU brings with the recruiting process, with how they practice, with how the facilities are run and the players. It is a winning mentality and they are always working hard.”
Another reason – NDSU was proactive.
“What led me to go to NDSU is no one was pulling the trigger,” Johnston said, “once NDSU offered after the NDSU three-day camp, a lot of the other coaches started talking to me more. I thought if they didn’t like me before I was offered, why are they showing interest now? I didn’t agree with that.”
Johnston – who also held offers from South Dakota State, North Dakota, and Augustana – impressed programs with his hard work.
“They liked that I came every day to work. It doesn’t matter if I was a little short at 6’3″ or a little undersized for an offensive or defensive lineman, but I just come to work every day. It doesn’t matter if I am going up against a five star or two star recruit, I am going to try to beat that guy off the line.”
Northstarfootballnews.com’s 31st ranked senior is guessing the Bison are bringing him in to play offense.
“They are bringing me in as a lineman, but I have had a lot of good connections with the offensive line coach,” Johnston explained. “I think I am coming in as an offensive lineman. With my height and with the way they like how I pull, they have given me bits and clues. I played one game a center this year, and they said they liked my film when I played center. They also said they like the way I pulled and how aggressive I was on the interior of the offensive line. If I were guessing – I would say guard or tackle.”
The Tigers finished the season with a 2-7 record, but Johnston had a great year.
“I recorded the most tackles I ever have on defense,” the 6’3″ 270-pound senior said. “A couple of guys and I had a competition for pancake blocks, and I had by far the most I have ever had in a season. It was probably my best season playing football. After I committed to NDSU, not having to prove to anyone and just going out there playing my game and being relaxed.”
Johnston was a three-year starter – the first two at offensive tackle.
“Going into this year, I have been playing mostly left tackle, but last year we graduated both of our guards. Our coach sat me down at the end of the school year and told me they were going to move me inside, but he said we are going to be giving our running backs a lot of reps this year and we need someone who can be the most effective in front of them.”
Johnston – who likes to hunt and fish in his spare time – adjusted well to the move inside.
“For pass protection, I was used to going against faster guys with more space. At guard, I could be there to help out my young center and young tackle.”
Johnston played both ways.
“On defense, we ran a three-man front. If it were a team that liked to run in the middle, I would play nose guard. If not, I would play strongside or wide side defensive end.”
For the sake of football, Johnston switched winter sports and for the second year – switched spring sports.
“For the last two years, I played hockey, but this year I decided to join wrestling to help me get ready for college football and help me use those wrestling skills I am learning into offensive line play,” Johnston said. “In hockey, I was a defenseman. I was a defensive defenseman who played out in front of the net, preventing screens. I always played physical. With wrestling, the coaching staff knows my focus is football, and they have my best interests in mind. I will be throwing shot put and discus this year in track. This is my second year doing that. I used to golf.”
It was a long process, but when Johnston received an offer from NDSU, he was ready to sign and ready to enjoy his senior year.