Here life-changing moments are concerned, there’s nothing more jarring than the loss of a parent.
No matter how old you are, losing a mom or dad forces you to evaluate where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going.
And that’s what Josh Hayden did after his dad passed away last October. Prior to that, Hayden was, by his own admission, a ‘punk kid living life in the fast lane.’
“That was an eye-opener, realizing anything can happen at any point, and it made me realize that I needed to slow life down,” he said. “It made me appreciate the things that mattered, like family. The thing is, we were never all that close when he was around. Now he’s gone, but he’s with me every single day, with every choice I make.”
Surprisingly, Hayden always had good grades in school. He thanks mom Julie for always pushing, pushing, pushing on that, because those grades were good enough to gain him acceptance to Simon Fraser University.
“People wouldn’t have thought I’d have good grades, but I listened to her and I graduated with A honours,” the 21 year old said.
Hayden had to make football happen on his own.
Through a stroke of good fortune, he was put in touch with Kim Chapdelaine, a sports trainer who just happens to be the wife of newly minted SFU head coach Jacques Chapdelaine. Hayden started working out twice weekly in Abbotsford with Kim, who saw in him the potential to play at the university level.
Once SFU accepted him academically — aided by a letter of recommendation from Chilliwack secondary school teacher and SFU Sports Hall of Famer Harold Willers — Kim suggested he reach out to the school’s football recruiters.
Things took off from there.
Hayden’s talent has always been unquestionable.
Between the sidelines he’s shifty, deceptively strong and willing to run through a wall to gain an extra yard.
It’s been injuries, mostly, that have conspired to derail him the last two years. While toiling for the junior football Valley Huskers in 2012 and 2013, the former provincial champion (2009 Chilliwack midget Giants) worried that his football dreams might be fading.
“That’s why I was so proactive, because I figured nothing was going to come to me,” he said. “My mom told me if I want it I have to go and get it. I want a career in football, and I want an education to fall back on. If it (football) doesn’t work, it’s not meant to be. But I did everything I could.”
Hayden has been told he’ll be either a receiver or running back with the Clansmen.
“I’ll play defensive back or offensive line,” he chuckled. “Ultimately, it’s whatever helps the team win.”
Hayden knows he’ll be red-shirting for his first year, practicing with the team but not playing in games or traveling with them.
That’s necessary because he played junior football.
He’ll have two years of eligibility after that, and hopefully he’ll have scholarship opportunities after year one.
“That depends how well I do on the field and in the classroom,” he said. “I’ll for sure be paying for school the first year.”
Most Canadian universities play CIS football. Simon Fraser plays division two NCAA ball in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Hayden will play four-down football against the likes of the Western Oregon Wolves, Northwest Nazarene Crusaders and Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks — the GNAC currently has 10 full members.
“I’ve never played American football, so that’s something new,” he said. “It’ll be challenging but a lot of fun. I’m really excited for it.”
The ultimate dream, as it’s always been, is to play professionally.
“First and foremost I’ll come out of this with my Bachelor of Arts degree, so I’ll have a career to fall back on,” he said. “But if all goes perfect, getting to the National Football League or Canadian Football League would be great. If I devote my whole mind, body and soul to it, there’s no reason I can’t accomplish it.”
Get SFU info at athletics.sfu.ca