Hayden Gillum Interview: Kansas State center sets sights on NFL Draft

The Kansas City Chiefs have a massive player pool to draft from every year. Let’s learn about one such player, former Kansas State Wildcats center Hayden Gillum.

The upcoming NFL Draft this weekend is a significant milestone for many football players, marking the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice. Although there are only a limited number of draft selections available each year, a few players from the Kansas City Wildcats football team have a chance to fulfill their NFL dreams this year.

While it would be exciting for local fans to see all of these players join the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead, the reality is that the team has specific needs for each position, and unfortunately, center Hayden Gillum does not play in a position that is a glaring need.

Contributor Jacob Milham interviewed the Plainville, Kansas native just days before the draft’s opening pick. Learn about his pre-NFL journey, process, and outlook, and how his peers impacted him.

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JM: If you could give us a three-sentence summary of your college career, how would you put it?

HG: I would just say it was a long journey, with a lot of ups and downs, but I really just stayed the course. I stayed true to my heart and followed the guidance of my coaches. And it paid off. I think it rewarded me in a big way. But it was definitely not the journey that I thought it would be for, in a good or bad way.

Honestly, it’s been amazing. I wouldn’t change it. But you always have these ideas of how it’s going to be. And I was going to get a scholarship right away. I was going to be a starter. And, you know, I came in as a defensive lineman, moved to tight end, came to the offensive line finally, and injuries and whatever it is, it just doesn’t go as planned.

I’m not sure if everything you do is the same, but it’s definitely not what I expected when I started. But, with the success I’ve had in, you know, the career I’ve been able to have and the people I’ve been around, I wouldn’t change it.

JM: How has the draft process been for you as a center? Are teams asking if you are open to playing guard?

HG: You know, I think my knowledge of the game and understanding conceptually what defenses are trying to do on offense is what gives me such an advantage at center and can make me an asset wherever I go. But I played anywhere for two years. I played tackle in practice, just like I played a lot of guard.

So really, wherever I’m needed, teams are primarily talking to me as a center, but, you know, I can hop in there and play guard and be a guard just as easily as well. I think they’re pretty. They translate, kind of back and forth, pretty easily. So that’s definitely something I’m also looking into.

JM: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you transitioning from college to the NFL?

HG: I don’t know. I guess I’ll tell you in a few weeks. I think everyone just adapts to the speed of the game. You know, there’s a change from high school to college, and then now you’re playing against the best of the best—you know, the best guys you played in college. They’re all similar in the NFL.

So I’m just adjusting to the new speed of the game. Like I said, conceptually, I understand all that pretty well. So I think I’ll be fine there, and it’ll be a smooth transition. But there’s always a learning curve, you know, and it’s just the schedule and understanding, you know, how the business works.

I don’t know yet, but I think I am ready for it.

JM: What are some areas of your game you have reevaluated during the draft process?

HG: I think to be the best you play at a high level. Oftentimes, you’re always looking to see where you can improve. So, you know, being able to look at how I have played this season, what can I do? The year before, I was getting my weight up to anchor on the bull rush.

This year, I am just continuing to learn body control and core strength. I move really well; I was really just kind of an athlete, you know, moving from position to position and learning to play it the way I wanted and having good control. And, like, people don’t realize how much balance goes into being an offensive lineman.

I would say that body control and getting up to the second level are things that have been a big focus for me this offseason. I’d like to take it to the next level. But you’re always learning with every practice. It’s whether you can adjust a foot or see a picture differently here; there’s so much you can continuously work on in our position.

JM: There are several other Wildcats that could hear their name called this weekend. Have you been keeping in touch with them?

HG: Leading up to the [NFL] combine and the Big 12 combine, we were all at our own individual facilities. But since then, we’ve all been in Manhattan. There are four of us linemen. We’ve all been training together.

We also have Felix [Anudike-Uzomah] back, so we have a pretty good NFL crew all back in Manhattan. We can push each other, get in shape, and work with our previous strength staff. So it’s been a fun last few weeks with those guys, kind of leading up to this.

JM: Who is a former Wildcats player you think people are underrating ahead of the draft?

HG: I would say [wide receiver] Philip Brooks. He’s a great guy, and his testing results have kind of surprised people. He’s a big special teams guy, and people see his athleticism. I think they’ll be surprised at how well that translates. 

He’s been a wide receiver for us and a great player for us over the years. But he’s really talented, and I think a lot of teams have taken notice of that here over the last few weeks.

JM: As the center, you are the anchor of that offensive line. How do you help that unit’s communication and chemistry?

HG: For one, I’m just a people person. I love being around the guys. I love just the camaraderie of it. But, for me as a person and just my story and what I went through in my collegiate career and walking on and learning a new system and doing all that, I would say I’ve been forged by the fire.

Every one of those tough experiences prepares you for the opportunity that’s coming. I think I’ve had a lot of those, and just how I’ve had to grow mentally and in confidence and gain my knowledge helps you because the more that you’ve experienced and what you’ve been through, the more you can relate to other guys.

And that’s a huge part of just being able to relate to people and earn their trust. That’s what I’m going to do; whatever I do, ultimately, you just have to earn everyone’s trust. Trust isn’t given easily, but it comes with work and time.

JM: How do you handle high-pressure situations?

HG: I think whenever things get hard, you really fall back on your training. So I don’t feel a ton of pressure when I’m out there, but I know what work I put in leading up to that. So I think sometimes, you know, nerves or pressure if you’re really prepared and you’ve done everything and you know every look that’s going to come, there’s always going to be something you don’t know or something that’s going to be a surprise in the defensive picture.

However, I know how much I put into my preparation. I think that allows me to play with such freedom when the games come.

JM: How have you stayed focused and disciplined through this offseason?

HG: I just see it as: You put in so much work, so why let up now? You relate back to when you were a kid, and that’s part of this journey. It’s now more than ever to empty the tank and just go. I’m putting everything I have into it. It’s a unique opportunity. I’m very blessed to be in this situation, and I can’t wait to see where I go.

I’m going to give everything I have, no matter what it is that I’m doing. and that’s the same with this. I’m committed to this process, and I’m going to do the absolute best I can and give everything I have.

JM: I have to ask, do you have any preference on where you go?

HG: I’ve met with a lot of great teams. I’d say my wife, if you asked her, she’d probably tell you some warm weather, but I don’t care. I’ve met with a lot of great organizations, and, like I said, it’ll be a blessing wherever I go.

I think to be able to go in and make an impact and just plant your roots there, it’ll be unique. So, I’m excited to see where I end up.

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