AUBURN, Ala. – Hayden Brice’s career has had a lot of changes, including two stops in junior college and two position changes, but it’s clear that the Auburn senior edge defender is making most of the opportunity to play at his dream school on the Plains.
Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, where he graduated from St. Joseph Catholic School, Brice was a multi-sport athlete growing up. In addition to football, he also played basketball, was involved in track and field, and swam. Ultimately, he decided to focus on football over his second favorite sport, basketball, while he was in high school.
“I played AAU basketball when I was in the 10th grade. I remember going to a tournament in Atlanta, walking in the gym and seeing these other kids that were like seven feet tall,” said Brice who now stands 6-foot-3. “They were already this tall at the age of 16. After that, I realized that I might not get any taller, but I knew that I was definitely big enough to be a football player. So, I just put all my focus into football after the 10th grade.”
Following high school, Brice continued his football career as a wide receiver in the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges, playing first at Pearl River Community College in 2018, where he recorded eight catches for 136 yards, and then at Northeast Mississippi Community College in 2019, where he totaled eight catches for 220 yards and a touchdown.
After his 2019 season at NMCC, Brice had his sights set on one school – Auburn University.
“I never actually took a visit to Auburn,” the senior said. “Auburn was the only school that I applied to, so when I got in, I came. Auburn was a dream school for me.”
After Brice arrived on campus, the coaching staff transitioned him to tight end for the 2020 campaign. However, the bigger challenge came the following season in 2021 when first-year head coach Bryan Harsin asked him to play somewhere that he’d never played before in his college career. He asked Brice to play on the defensive side of the ball.
“The most difficult thing was learning to play defense for the first time,” said the versatile veteran. “Coming from the offensive side of the ball and transitioning to playing defense in the SEC was definitely a challenge, but I just had to work hard and learn it.”
Brice believes he has been taught a lot through his time playing football.
“Football has definitely taught me a lot of life lessons about not giving up on myself, the value of hard work, and learning to always see stuff all the way through,” he said.
Brice, who is studying in the Harbert College of Business, also has learned a lot about time management through the challenges of balancing football and class.
“Balancing school and football is definitely a lot,” he said. “We wake up early in the morning to lift weights, then go to classes before coming to practice for three or four hours and then go home to study for both football and for classes. After that we go to sleep and do it all over again the next day. It is a lot to balance, but it will be valuable throughout life.”
Brice, who is on track to graduate in December with a marketing degree, keeps a close relationship with his family. He claims that a lot of his success is due to the encouragement and support from his parents, Jon and Heather, as well as his two siblings, Kahlil and Gavin.
“I keep my family really close,” he said. “They have helped me through a lot of the things that I deal with on a day-to-day basis. I don’t think I’d be here without their support.”
When asked about his personal goals for his senior season, Brice’s answer was short and simple: To be the best teammate he can be on and off the field. And when asked for his goals for the team, the answer was even shorter: Win the national championship.
As Auburn prepares for Mercer on Saturday, Brice is excited to start the season and is looking forward to playing in front of the fans again at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“Y’all are the best fans in the nation,” Brice said as a personal message to the Auburn Family. “I love when y’all come out and cheer for us every Saturday!”
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