Created: Thursday, July 12, 2012 10:30 p.m. CST

Special opportunity

Northern Illinois cornerback Marckie Hayes lines up during an April 6 practice at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. (Rob Winner —

DeKALB – Marckie Hayes will hit anybody.

That’s the mantra the Northern Illinois cornerback has created for himself. Standing at just 5-foot-8, 176 pounds, it’s something he takes pride in.

Hayes isn’t at the top of the Huskies’ defensive depth chart yet, but he’s gotten the chance to show he can hit someone on special teams.

As a redshirt freshman last year, Hayes had 14 special-teams tackles, working primarily on NIU’s kickoff and kick return teams. In spring practice, Hayes was on the punt and punt return teams as well.

Playing special teams was nothing new to Hayes, who returned punts and kickoffs at Sycamore High School. Yet, being up front and blocking or dealing with oncoming blockers is a completely different game.

“It was an adjustment. Obviously at this level everybody’s just as fast and huge for the most part,” Hayes said. “When we played Wisconsin in particular, I was a little nervous because some of those guys are like monsters.”

During NIU’s 45-42 loss to Kansas on Sept.10, Hayes had his first wake-up call as a special teamer.

“I got blindsided pretty good on one of the kickoffs,” he said. “Then after that, I made sure nobody was going to hit me like that ever again.”

It was just one more learning experience for Hayes. He’s gotten used to playing on special teams by now, and appreciates the opportunity to be on the field after sitting out 2010 as a redshirt.

“Any way I can get on the field. I’ll block, I’ll tackle, I’ll run into people as fast and hard as I can,” Hayes said. “As long as I get some playing time. Then, you know, I’m completely willing and able to do any of that.”

But Hayes wants more than special teams in his future. Although NIU’s depth chart at cornerback has a veteran presence, with players like Rashaan Melvin, Dominique Ware and Sean Evans all returning, Hayes is hoping to see more time on the defensive side of the ball.

Hayes feels his technique as a defensive back has gotten better and better, with more room to improve.

NIU cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt has seen Hayes work at his press technique and press coverage in the Huskies’ aggressive defense. Hayes has also shown his position coach the ability to defend the deep ball — a must for any defensive back.

McNutt also said it’s not very hard for Hayes to pick up the game.

“From the time I got with him to now, he’s shown a great understanding of the game of football. He’s a great athlete and has great instincts,” McNutt said. “His knowledge of football has put him in position to make plays and be successful.”

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