Plenty of BYU football players are familiar with Oregon’s Autzen Stadium, but only one has actually gone into the home of the Ducks and tried to play amid the craziness and hostility directed toward the visiting team.

That would be senior cornerback Kaleb Hayes, who was a member of the Oregon State football team when the Beavers lost 24-10 at Autzen in 2019. Hayes also played against the Ducks as a Beaver in 2018, falling 55-15 in Corvallis.

He sat out in 2020 due to COVID-19 and transferred to BYU in 2021. The native of San Bernardino, California, is in his second, and last, season at BYU.

“It is going to be an exciting atmosphere. It is one of those (chances) of a lifetime. … Autzen Stadium brings a lot of energy, which I feel is going to help us. This is what we dreamed of when we were little kids, is to be in a spot where millions are looking at us.” — BYU cornerback Kaleb Hayes

“It is going to be an exciting atmosphere,” Hayes said of Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. MDT kickoff. “It is one of those (chances) of a lifetime. … Autzen Stadium brings a lot of energy, which I feel is going to help us. This is what we dreamed of when we were little kids, is to be in a spot where millions are looking at us.”

Hayes’ advice to his teammates: Enjoy the ride.

“Stay in the moment, and just play our football,” he said. “It is going to be fun.”

Hayes appeared in 12 games for the Beavers in 2018, and made four tackles in the Civil War (neither school calls it that now) at Reser Stadium. He only played in five games in 2019, but the rivalry game was one of them.

He said this Saturday’s game will be memorable for him.

“Um, the Beaver in me, of course it is a little bit emotional, you know?” he said. “I was always a fan of Oregon, to be honest with you. But when I was at Corvallis, it was kinda like, ‘No! That’s taboo.’ You feel me? 

“But I am at BYU. We are going to show a lot of camaraderie, respect, to that team, from my side, from where I am at.

“But yeah, it is going to be interesting, though,” he continued. “I am going to have fun. It is exciting to be back at Oregon and play at Autzen Stadium.”

Hayes, who made three solo tackles in No. 12 BYU’s 26-20 double-overtime win over No. 9 Baylor last week, said he respects Oregon a lot, but the only thing he is jealous of is its jerseys.

“I always used to say at Oregon State we used to get hand-me-downs from Oregon,” he said, laughing, having spent four years at OSU.

Oregon State cornerback Kaleb Hayes sits on the sidelines during the last minutes against Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Stanford, Calif. Hayes is the only member on the Cougars’ roster who has played at Oregon’s famed Autzen Stadium as a member of the visiting team. | Tony Avelar, Associated Press

Hayes said Oregon’s high-powered offense will be difficult to contain.

“As far as I’ve seen, they like to spread it out a lot. You have great athletes at that school, so you are probably going to see a lot of perimeter things,” he said. “If we just play our keys, we should be fine. I think we match up pretty well with them. So yeah, it is going to be great.”

Hayes played running back, receiver and quarterback at California’s San Gorgonio High, accounting for 3,139 passing yards and 30 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons combined. He was recruited to BYU by defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki and assistant head coach Ed Lamb, but chose the Beavers instead.

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When he entered the transfer portal in January 2021, BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford reached out and told him the coaching staff really wanted him, but wasn’t going to go through the entire recruiting process again.

“And he was like, ‘Look coach, I am coming to BYU. I am not taking any visits. I am not talking to anyone else,’” Gilford said. “So that was that.”

It was an easy transition to BYU because Hayes matured at OSU, learned what was important to him, and knew what the expectations were.

“He is a good kid, handles business on and off the field,” Gilford said. “Natural leader, competitor, a guy who adapts well to any kind of situation. It just makes him a perfect fit.”

BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar said there’s never a dull moment when Hayes is around.

“He is awesome,” Wilgar said. “Kaleb, man, he has brought a lot of good energy to our team. He’s a great leader, so he’s fun to have around.”

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Through two games, Hayes has emerged as one of BYU’s most feared defenders. South Florida didn’t throw to his side once in the 50-21 BYU win on Sept. 3. Is the NFL in his future?

“That is in God’s hands. If so, it would be a major, major blessing,” Gilford said. “He just has to continue to work and can’t let the noise get to him, because then you start thinking of positive and negative things and things that are going right and wrong instead of just playing your game and letting that situation handle itself.”


Cougars on the air

No. 12 BYU (2-0) at No. 25 Oregon (1-1)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT

Autzen Stadium

Eugene, Oregon

TV: Fox

Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM