UK commit’s progress shocked even his own family

Published 6:16 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2023


Contributing writer

Sometimes even a parent doesn’t sense their child has a chance to be a Division I athlete.

Email newsletter signup

Taylor County lineman Hayes Johnson was an early commit in Kentucky’s 2024 recruiting class and he will play against host Mercer County in the Little Caesars Fort Harrod Bowl Saturday at 8 p.m. in Harrodsburg. Taylor County also has games scheduled against Boyle County and Lincoln County.

The 6-3, 295-pound Johnson, a three-star recruit, surprised his mother, Stephanie Johnson, when he blossomed into a player that had numerous scholarship offers before picking UK over Baylor, Tennessee, Louisville and Michigan State in January.

“Honestly I never saw this coming. He was two weeks early when he was born and weighed 9 pounds, 5 ounces and was 23 inches long. My grandmother looked at me and said, ‘You didn’t just have a baby. You had a toddler.’ I knew he was big and doctors always told me he was never on the (growth) charts (because he was so big),” Johnson’s mother said.

Her son’s offensive line coach, Greg Oliver, told her after his freshman year at Taylor County that he “checked all the boxes” to be a Division I athlete. He encouraged her and her husband, Paul, to get more training for their son.

That prompted them to connect with trainer Chris Vaughn in Louisville, the same trainer that helped Wan’Dale Robinson and others turn into collegiate stars and then NFL players.

“It really kind of shocked me. He has always been big but I didn’t know he had the other qualities to be a  D1 athlete,” she said.

Hayes Johnson had squatted 585 pounds as a freshman but needed help working on pass protection and more technical offensive line play.

“We did a consultation with Chris Vaughn at Aspirations and he said he can play Power Five football,” Paul Johnson said.

Within two weeks, Johnson was working out against future Division I players.

“Chris put him through it. Hayes had blood running down his face and his shirt was ripped off and he told me he wanted  more,” Paul Johnson said. “It was a whirlwind two weeks from meeting Chris to getting a UK offer. We were dumb struck. We couldn’t believe how fast it happened.”

It was no surprise when he did pick Kentucky. His parents joke they both brought him up as a Kentucky fan.

“No denying he grew up a dyed in the wool Kentucky fan as a little kid. I wanted to make the most of his recruiting opportunities and go to these places and meet these coaches and people,” Paul Johnson said. “Let’s do all this and the decision will make itself and you will know when time is right to make the decision and he did.”

“I had in my heart where I wanted him to be but it was not my decision. I went along to support him through the process. I may have injected maybe one opinion but tried to refrain from doing that. He is the one doing this and playing football, not me, but I was definitely happy with him picking Kentucky,” Stephanie Johnson said.

One major reason she was happy with his choice was offensive line coach Zach Yenser who made a quick connection with Hayes and his parents. Kentucky’s offensive line issues during the 2022 season — Yenser’s first year — did not worry any of them.

“He is a father and that played a big part in it. You could tell that he genuinely loves the kids and is there for the players and has their best interests at heart,” Stephanie Johnson said.  “As a mom, I could just sense that and it made me feel even better about Kentucky.”