He’s got an arm and a release that reminds you of the great Jared Lorenzen as Hal Mumme will tell you, but he hasn’t even been discovered yet. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances in football from politics to injury to COVID-19, and plenty of other factors that keep promising quarterbacks who could elevate a program from being fully discovered.
It’s been a long journey for Nate Hayden over the last few years, who was originally playing at Liberty Christian, which had a coach whose son was playing quarterback. So he transferred to Dallas Christian where he ultimately graduated. The only offer he had was a Division II offer from Ouachita Baptist.
Hayden says Ouachita Baptist was a great program but that it didn’t throw the ball very much. From there, he decided to try for a JUCO that threw the ball around a bit more and he found one in California. But like several other players across the country, Hayden was up against the challenge of COVID and ended up not being able to play in California with the season canceled.
He decided to play at North Alabama instead, where he said he originally walked on. That’s around the time period that he met Mumme, the creator of the Air Raid offense. For a quarterback interested in throwing the ball several times per game, there’s hardly a better alliance to have.
Hayden says it wasn’t long before grad transfers were also in the mix and he and Mumme came to the conclusion that JUCO may be the best route for Hayden to get a chance to be a starter and have a consistent chance to show what he brings to the table.
From there Hayden was in connection with Snow College, which said it was full but told him about a JUCO in Minnesota. Minnesota State Junior College told him they wanted to run the Air Raid.
The match couldn’t have been more perfect, and he brought some prevalent people with him along the way.
“Mumme and Stan Bedwell actually came up there to Fergus Falls, Minnesota and I went up there and brought some receivers with me. We did some recruiting of some players for the team.”
From there, the Minnesota JUCO that had won a total of three games in the past 18 years went on to flip the switch and win the conference—that’s a credit to Hayden and the system itself, which he said he caught onto really fast and has helped train him to get the ball out of his hands even quicker.
Now looking to gain more recognition at a Division I college where he can finish out his career with his remaining eligibility, Hayden is confident with what he brings to the table. Like a lot of Air Raid quarterbacks, he’s got a high level of accuracy, quick instincts, and a strong football IQ.
“I think I’m a vocal leader, very much willing to step up to the plate and take charge,” Hayden said. “I learn an offense fast, I can check protections, I can check plays and everything of that nature. I feel like I connect to my teammates well and I’ve always felt like my supporting cast likes playing for me, likes playing with me.”
Arm strength is another area of talent for Hayden, and he has the ability to deliver an accurate pass with touch, velocity, and the right amount of air under it even under pressure and while taking a hit.
“I think I’ve got one of the best arms in the country,” Hayden said. “I know that may sound crazy, but I do believe I can do it as well as anyone—I can throw a ball as far as anybody and put it into windows when it seems like there aren’t any open there. That’s something Hal Mumme, Stan Bedwell and anyone who has actually seen me throw the ball in person will attest to. I feel like I’ve got a gunslinger mentality—I won’t force anything when it’s not there but I’ll take the top off when it is, and I think that shows in my deep ball.”
There are a lot of great stories in football from those who stand out at DI colleges and go on to the NFL that receive a lot of publicity, but Hayden is an example of a player who has flown under the radar while cutting his teeth in the lower ranks. He has one of the most compelling journeys that’s gone unnoticed while possessing the ability to play at a much higher-level program.