Chase Hayden brings with him to ECU the experience of playing in the SEC, where he found moderate success in three seasons with Arkansas. A highly touted running back out of Tennessee, Hayden transferred to ECU as a junior with two years of eligibility remaining after redshirting in 2019.

With the Pirates, Hayden stepped into a room that needed some experience and leadership after Mike Houston’s squad failed to produce a 500-yard rusher in 2019. The man who got closest to that number, Demetrius Mauney, was a true freshman last season and assumed many of the snaps after Darius Pinnix Jr. hit the shelf early in the campaign.

To shore up a position that is so important to Houston’s wantedness for a balanced attack on offense, the Pirates pulled in two high-caliber prep running backs in Rahjai Harris and Keaton Mitchell. While Houston has suggested Harris could be ready for some significant snaps in 2020, and that the competition in that room is five-deep, Hayden, Pinnix and Mauney all figure to have a legitimate shot of breaking camp as the Pirates’ starter.

Nearly two weeks through preseason camp, Houston said it seems like a different running back sticks out everyday with good effort and performance in practice. That, he said, is a product of the competition that exists within the position room, something he believes will only bring out the best in everyone involved.

“The new guys that are added into that room — Rahjai Harris, Keaton Mitchell, Chase Hayden — along with the returning guys Darius Pinnix, Trace Christian, Demetrius Mauney. There is incredible competition every single day,” Houston said on Tuesday. “It’s like everyday you see somebody else really stand out. One, it’s good to have that depth, but two, it’s exciting to have the guys competing at a high level and being able to see their play-making ability.”

Hayden brings with him 130 carries of experience in the SEC, and a solid yard per carry clip to go along with that. While he was used sparingly over parts of three seasons, Hayden averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his time at Arkansas.

A freshman in 2017, Hayden had his best season, racking up 326 yards on the ground on 61 attempts with four touchdowns in just seven games. His 5.3 yards per carry mark represented the highest of his collegiate career thus far, as he also caught one pass out of the backfield.

Hayden’s sophomore campaign saw him delve deeper into his pass-catching abilities with 11 receptions for 61 yards, but he added just four catches and 12 yards to that total as a junior in 2019 before he redshirted; and transferred during the off-season.

On Saturday, Hayden received his first chance to prove himself in purple and gold during live game action in a scrimmage inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. While the Pirates rotated most of their players through the simulated game, Houston said it was clear afterward Hayden was not happy with his performance.

Still new to campus and the area, Hayden has used the last few weeks of workouts and preseason camp to settle into his new situation, one he is building a comfort level with.

“He’s exactly the kind of person that I had expected,” Houston said. “Just an outstanding young man. He’s getting more and more comfortable everyday. I think he was a little frustrated with the way he performed on Saturday. He came back out today and I could tell (he was) really intentional with everything he was doing. He was still out on the field when I left getting some extra conditioning in.”

After months away from campus during the spring and summer months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ECU’s student-athletes were unable to maintain their normal level of strength and conditioning. For obvious reasons, it is important for the Pirates’ running backs — as well as the entire team — to find their wind again before welcoming Marshall to town.

On that front Hayden, and the entirety of the roster, may get a few extra weeks to prepare as Pirate Athletic Director Jon Gilbert has suggested his department and Marshall are working to move their season-opener from Aug. 29 to sometime in September. That announcement, according to Gilbert, is expected this week.

Last year the Pirates’ running backs collectively averaged less than four yards per carry, and were in need of a spark. In Hayden and some of the incoming freshmen, Houston hopes he has found just that heading into the 2020 season.

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