From unwanted to indispensable: Preston Hadley’s path to BYU football

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Some people just won’t take no for an answer. Preston Hadley, known to most Cougar faithful as a punishing defensive back, has learned to be that kind of person. If he hadn’t, one thing is sure: He wouldn’t be playing college football.

Hadley didn’t spend his childhood training for a future in football. He had played very little tackle football until seventh grade, when he asked his mom and dad whether he could try out for the junior high team.

“My parents didn’t push sports on me or anything,” Hadley said. “My mom enjoys watching football, but she doesn’t like the contact or risking injuries.”

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Preston Hadley denies a pass during BYU's game against Utah this season.
Hadley thrived on his junior high team, becoming a “touchdown machine” as he jokingly called it, playing as a cornerback on defense and running back on offense. While his time as a running back eventually ended, he continued on defense.

“I’ve always been a corner everywhere I’ve been,” Hadley said.

Things took their strangest turn after Hadley’s successful but unspectacular playing career at Pleasant Grove High School.

During his time there, Hadley wasn’t recruited by a single Division I school.

“Every high school kid who didn’t get recruited says he should have been recruited,” Hadley said. “[And] maybe I shouldn’t have been. But I believed I was as good as any of the kids that were. … I wasn’t ready to be done.”

The summer after graduating, Hadley decided he would try to make it as a walk-on at Snow College in Ephraim. The Snow College Badgers, who consistently contend for the National Junior College Championship, were holding summer tryouts.

After only one day of tryouts, though, Hadley was cut.

“You only had a few plays to shine. I didn’t have a 40 [yard dash] time that stood out or a shuttle time or a bench max that really stood out,” Hadley said. “It’s tough, [you have] just one day to show what you’ve got and there’s more than 150 players trying out.”

It isn’t typical of Hadley to give up in anything, but he knew his football playing days were realistically over if he was cut again in winter workouts.

“If I was going to get cut a second time at Snow, that’s probably around [when] I remember just saying, ‘If my name’s not on that list, I’m done. I tried, I just guess it’s not meant for me,’” he said.

The problem was, even more people were trying out this time around.

“Most of the guys they had trying out were guys they had invited … but I wasn’t one of them,” Hadley said.

But after making a good enough impression in the weight room to continue trying out, Hadley eventually made the final roster.

Hadley rewarded coaches for their decision to keep him with two productive seasons for the Badgers, with an LDS mission to the New York, New York South mission sandwiched in between. Hadley drew the interest of several schools because of his play there, helping the Badgers finish No. 7 in the nation in 2010. By the time Hadley graduated, he had been recruited by Washington State, Northwestern, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Kent State and, of course, BYU.

Weighing a decision he hadn’t had the privilege of making a couple years earlier, Hadley chose to come to BYU. By the end of spring camp in early 2011, he had solidified his position as a starter in the secondary and earned the praise of Mendenhall.

Hadley has thrived so far at the next level, having recording 45 tackles so far this season for the Cougars, including a season high of 11 at Oregon State. He said the biggest adjustment has been getting used to playing major football programs that he grew up watching.

“You watch Texas on TV growing up, you watch USC, Notre Dame, all those schools, then you get here and realize those are the guys you’re going to be playing with,” Hadley said. “Your mentality needs to switch from being a fan to being a player.”

From unremarkable and unwanted at Snow College to being a starting cornerback for the Cougars, one of the biggest factors in getting from point A to point B for Hadley is his mantra to worry about one day at a time.

“I just come out each day and just battle,” Hadley said. “Whoever is in my way, I’m going to beat them out for the spot, competing in every workout, in every lift, in every sprint. I’m not the fastest or the strongest guy, but I can compete to be that guy. It’s just helped me become the player that I am now.”

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