DeKALB – Last season was pretty special for Marckie Hayes.
The Northern Illinois player and 2010 Sycamore High School graduate was a part of arguably the best season in NIU history, for starters. Hayes saw the field on special teams and got into the Huskies’ defensive rotation more as the season went on.
Hayes came to NIU as a walk-on in 2010, but a few weeks into last season, he was awarded a full scholarship. Former coach Dave Doeren announced Hayes’ scholarship in a meeting, and after the words came out of Doeren’s mouth the rest of the room jumped up and cheered, according to Hayes.
“It’s been a dream come true, just being the local kid around here, always wanting to be a Division I scholarship player,” Hayes said. “Not only just that, but be a Division I scholarship Northern Illinois Huskie.”
Hayes finished the 2012 season with 17 tackles.
He came to NIU after being recruited by Jerry Kill, knowing he had the possibility of eventually earning a scholarship through hard work.
Hayes is just one example of former Huskie walk-ons who have gone to become scholarship players.
Former NIU defensive end Sean Progar wasn’t on scholarship when he came to DeKalb. Neither was another Sycamore product, former tight end Jason Schepler. Junior outside linebacker Michael Santacaterina was a walk-on coming out of Geneva High School, but received a scholarship in fall camp.
One player who Hayes took a lot of advice from was a fellow corner, Rashaan Melvin, who led the Mid-American Conference with 17 pass breakups last year and has a good shot at being selected in this month’s NFL Draft.
Melvin was another player who was overlooked in high school, coming to NIU as a walk-on in 2008. In the spring of 2010, Melvin was awarded a scholarship.
Hayes said Melvin really took him under his wing, as their situations were similar.
“The biggest thing he helped me with was just keeping my head in it. Just making sure I kept striving for it, that I wouldn’t get discouraged,” Hayes said. “Just because I’m not getting the same financial support as other people on the team, I can still be an impact, be a leader, and be just as valuable for the team.”
This spring, Hayes is receiving more practice reps, and is listed second at one of NIU’s cornerback slots behind senior Sean Evans.
Third-year NIU defensive coordinator Jay Niemann said Hayes is finally healthy. He dealt with minor injuries in 2012 and missed some time during the spring as well.
“He’s more healthy, that’s for sure. Last year it wasn’t like a lot of his injuries and things were out there, that people knew about, but he was nicked up and dinged up and I don’t think was ever healthy in the course of the season,” Niemann said. “Now I think he’s playing at 100 percent. ... You can see him drive on the routes better and a lot of those kinds of things.”