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September 6, 2008On an afternoon that saw the Nittany Lions slaughter a formidable Oregon State opponent, 45-14, the mood in the post-game locker room was anything but gleeful.
Rather, a somber demeanor took hold as word spread that Penn State redshirt junior defensive end Jerome Hayes would likely miss the rest of the season with a probable torn ACL in his left knee.
After working incredibly hard to get back on the field only eight months from an ACL injury in his right knee a season ago, it appears that Hayes will have to work his way back once again.
"He's got the other knee. An ACL," Penn State head coach Joe Paterno confirmed in his post-game press conference. "They'll have to have it operated.
"Poor kid. He's worked so hard to be back. But it looks like he'll be done for the year. When I say that, I haven't heard that from the doctor but he did tell me it was the other knee and it was an ACL. Ordinarily, that's it for a while."
Following an illegal shift penalty on a fourth-and-6 punt play early in the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions punted again from their own 16-yard line.
As Hayes went streaking down the left side of the field, an Oregon State defender clipped him from behind.
Immediately upon trying to stand up, Hayes hobbled on one leg and dropped to the turf, throwing his helmet in agony along the way.
Having been through this before, it was clear that Hayes knew.
The news was devastating, not only to Hayes, but to the whole team as well.
Linebacker Sean Lee, missing the entire 2008 season himself with a torn ACL, could be seen on the Penn State sideline emotionally wrought following the play.
Following the game, Lions' defensive coordinator Tom Bradley expressed the same sentiments.
"It didn't look good. The doctors said coming off, Dr. Sebastianelli, we'll probably know tomorrow the outcome of that one," Bradley said. "That affects us... losing him... I can't believe it happened to him again.
"It does (make me emotional). He's been such a big part of our team and everything we do, not just on the field but off the field, workouts, he's such a big part of the spirit of our football team. He sets the tone on defense... that's going to hurt us a lot but we'll rally."
To a man, players around the media room during post-game interviews were affected by the news.
Josh Gaines, a fellow defensive end for the Lions, said that he was going to wait until Monday to speak with Hayes, hoping to give him some space in this trying time. Still, when asked about his reaction to the injury, Gaines was clearly upset.
"I'm a little hurt right now," he said. "That's my little brother. To have him go down like that.
"To see him go down with an injury like that two years in a row, it's not something I look forward to. It hurt to see him go through that last year and then to have the same thing happen to him again. I wish I could do something for him. I wish that could be me instead of him. It hurts a lot to see him go down like that. I'll switch places with him anytime of the day."
Of course, an injury such as that is devastating under any circumstances, but the way Hayes was injured had Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark especially upset.
"I'll say this. There was a penalty called on that play, right? It was kind of a cheap shot. I was actually kind of mad about it," Clark said. "Losing him is real, real unfortunate.
"I'm real sad about it. He was in the locker room crying about it. I feel real bad and my heart really goes out to him. I don't really know what to say. I just really feel bad for him because he's one of our hardest workers."
When asked whether or not he had a chance to talk to Jerome, he said he told him to keep his head up.
"We're real sorry that it happened," he told Hayes. "We're going to go out and win these games for you. We're praying for you to have a speedy recovery. It's awful... It's awful."
Aaron Maybin, another of the Lions' defensive ends - ends that will now have to step up even further following the loss of Hayes - said all he and his teammates can do is try to support Hayes in any way they can.
"Seeing him work his way back through the injury that he faced before and seeing the determination and the drive that he had to put himself in position to help his team... He's a guy that always puts the team first," Maybin said. "We were talking about some things in meetings and he said he would give up everything, he would give up the starting spot, he would give up everything he's been given just to see one of his teammates succeed. That's the type of player that he is.
"He's the kind of guy that as a parent you want your kid to grow up to be like. So, obviously, it's just really difficult to watch something like that happen to a guy of his caliber.
"We're just going to continue to pray for him and his family and pray that everything works out for him."