Outside linebacker Antwon Hayden is a 3-star prospect from East St. Louis and is the second commitment for the 2023 recruiting class. Coach Bielema’s staff continues to pound the in-state pavement in an attempt to keep the best prospects home. According to his prospect profile, Hayden was recruited by linebackers coach Andy Buh and running backs coach Cory Patterson.
Coming in at 6-foot-3 and weighing 220 pounds, Hayden is most comparable to current outside linebacker Seth Coleman. Both are explosive players when coming off the edge, but Hayden has experience dropping into space as he also covered the slot and played inside linebacker in high school.
Hayden brings some unique prowess to the table. He has a natural instinct when locating and chasing down the ball carrier, which often leads to an explosive tackle upon arrival. Another strong suit in Hayden’s game is the athleticism shown when rushing the quarterback as an edge defender. He flashes the ability to get to his target in a hurry and make his presence known on contact. If needed, Hayden could bulk up and play inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. That adjustment could fit Coach Walters’ never ending quest to get his best athletes on the field at the same time.
Hayden has collected 12 offers to date with Illinois being his only Power 5 offer. He is currently rated as a 5.6, 3-star according to Rivals, but that will likely change as the year goes on. It’s probable that more Power 5 offers will be presented to Hayden and his rating will increase before landing on campus.
The coaching staff has quickly changed the talent level and skill set of the linebacking corps — focusing recruiting efforts on explosive, physical athletes that have high upside potential. Examples include freshmen Malachi Hood and Jared Badie who have impressed with their athleticism and development during spring practice. There’s good reason to believe Hayden will follow in their footsteps and make a name for himself when he arrives on campus in 2023.