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Alex Golesh says hard work, not just speed, led to Jalin Hyatt breakout

Alex Golesh has been going a million miles an hour since he took over as head coach at the University of South Florida in December. He will, however, slow down to make sure he doesn't miss one big piece along the way.

"We're looking for the next Jalin Hyatt," the former Tennessee offensive coordinator said on a recent episode of the "Giants Huddle" podcast.

Well, Biletnikoff Award winners don't just grow on route trees.

Hyatt and Golesh helped shatter Volunteers records in 2022, one of the program's most memorable seasons in recent history. Collectively, Tennessee ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring (47.33), yards per game (538.1), points per possession (3.24) and yards per play (7.35) in 2022. Individually, Hyatt became the first receiver in Vols history to earn unanimous first-team All-American honors after catching a school-record 15 touchdowns. The Giants selected him in the third round (73rd overall) of April's draft.

As is often the case in the evaluation process, there were debates about how much of Hyatt's success should be attributed to Golesh's scheme.

"That was the sexy question leading up to draft," Golesh said. "Is it the offense? Is it the product of the offense? Is it what you guys do and the tempo?"

Golesh's response was simple.

"I think you can either play receiver or you can't," he said. "I think when that question comes up, it's because people don't understand what we do and that's exactly how we want it. When people don't understand what's going on, they tend to create reasons why it should work or shouldn't work. He's a high-level receiver. He can run any route. He can catch any ball. Obviously, he's young, he's got to develop just like any receiver out of any offense, and it's the New York Giants' job to coach him to do that.

It's not his fault he was open.

"I've never seen a scheme get somebody open on a defensive back," Golesh said. "The scheme maybe allows a formational matchup that you like, but the guy has still got to do the job of getting open. He's as complete of a receiver as a three-year guy can be. It's on that coaching staff, and offensively with the staff [the Giants] have, [they] do an incredible job of getting guys open in space and creating matchups. He's going to do whatever that coaching staff asks him to do, and hopefully from a fan standpoint, getting vertical over top of people is one of those things."

Meanwhile, Golesh had another thought when he would receive calls from NFL personnel, whether it was a general manager, scout or coach.

"In my mind I kept saying, I've never coached in that league, but I do know they can't touch you after five [yards]," he said about the NFL's illegal contact rule that doesn't exist in college. "That guy's going to be an even better NFL receiver because if [the Giants] can help get him off the line, he'll be able to go get open against anybody in that league."

Of Hyatt's 108 career catches, 52 went for 10+ yards, 30 for 20+ yards, 21 for 30+ yards and 12 for 40+ yards. That big-play production was much-needed for the Giants, who had the fewest pass plays of 20+ yards in 2022.

Hyatt sparked the imagination of NFL fans and general managers alike for his performance on October 15, 2022.

Alabama, then ranked No. 3 in the country, came into Neyland Stadium to play No. 5 Tennessee. In front of 101,915 fans in Knoxville and millions of viewers watching on TV, Hyatt found his way into the orange and white checkerboard a program-record five times. Two of those trips to the end zone came in the fourth quarter – a 78-yarder and another from 13 yards off the arm of Hendon Hooker to tie the game with 3:26 left to play.

Chase McGrath later kicked a game-winning field goal for the Vols as time expired, leading to pandemonium as students rushed the field. The goal posts came down, and Hyatt's stock went up in their place.

"It probably changed my life," Hyatt said.

Indeed it did.

Giants general manager Joe Schoen, who is a "good friend" of Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, witnessed the matchup of the year in person, although a delay coming from another game caused the Giants' general manager to miss part of his usual pregame time on the field. So, instead of heading up to the press box for kickoff, he stayed on the field for the first half.

"You could really feel his speed," Schoen said. "It's legit 4.3."

Hyatt scored two touchdowns in the first 11 minutes.

"It was the fact that he went into that game really confident," Golesh said. "He earned the right to be confident because of how he worked. I think on a very national stage that night, he showed everybody in the country what he was capable of doing, hence helping us win, which I think probably made it even more magical in a lot of different ways. … He became a household name that night because it was Alabama, because Alabama defensively has always played elite defense under coach [Nick] Saban and here was this guy that not many people knew of that had 200-plus yards receiving and five touchdowns on one of the better defenses in the entire country."

It was only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface laid an ocean of work.

"[He's] probably [grown] as much as anybody I've ever been around," Golesh said. "When we got to Tennessee, Jalin had played some the year before. Raw would probably be an understatement, just very young. Young is a word that me and him have sat and talked about a long time – young as a football player, young emotionally, young in what it actually took to play at the SEC level, let alone in the National Football League.

"It was all about growing up for him, and by growing up I mean in every aspect of his life, how I live right, how I do right, how I work. It took that first year with him to realize, man, I've got to do everything right for me to ever have a chance to be an elite receiver at this level. … The coolest part about coaching college football is you get a guy like that where you know he's talented, you probably even think he's more talented than he even thinks he is, and you keep pouring into him until he understands."

It all clicked after a conversation in December of 2021 as the team geared up for the Music City Bowl. Hyatt laid out his goals, and the coaches told him how to get there. The first priority was to get on the Jugs machine – every day.

"From that December, whatever the date was, until we played the very first game of the season a year ago, our offices there overlook the indoor facility and Jalin Hyatt was there every day," Golesh said. "And when I say every day, I mean every day. There were weekends that we obviously as coaches are in there, you'd look out and there was Jalin Hyatt and every day somebody was shooting him Jugs and he was working top of the route with the quarterback. It was fascinating because we got to spring ball and you saw a different Jalin Hyatt. By different, I mean a confident Jalin Hyatt, one that would run through catches, one that was really confident at the top of his break points.

"He also poured himself into the weight room. He was 160 pounds, and I think in the back of his mind that first year was like, man, if I gain any weight, I'm going to lose my speed. He knew speed was his redeeming trait. He combined the speed with believing that gaining weight is going to help me be healthy, it's going to help me sustain hits, it's going to actually help me get faster. I think for fast guys, a lot of the time, they don't believe that gaining weight will help them. If you train the right way in the right system in the right program, it will. So, he gained weight, he got stronger, he perfected his craft every single day. He sacrificed time away from doing what college kids normally do, sacrificed it and poured it into being elite at his craft."

The results spoke for themselves.

On the very first snap of the 2022 season against Ball State, Hyatt caught a short pass on the perimeter, a routine play intended to get four to six yards and keep the chains moving. Instead, Hyatt made one guy miss, another guy miss, and scored a 23-yard touchdown.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Golesh said. "He got on the headset right after that and said, hey – and he really was talking to all the coaches – but hey, thanks for believing in me. That was one of those touching moments, not to get too sappy with it, but we were like that's because of a guy that realizes his potential and pours so much into it that the very first play of the season, this guy ends up in the end zone. From there, it was just a magical run for him."

*Hyatt isn't the only connection to the Giants for Golesh, who was the recruiting coordinator when Illinois found Jihad Ward.

"Jihad's got a fascinating story, a young man out of Philly that went to Globe [Institute of Technology], which doesn't even exist anymore, right there in the middle of New York City," Golesh said of the outside linebacker, who re-signed with the Giants this offseason. "Those guys lived an hour train ride away and used to practice over across the river in New Jersey and used to take the train to practice. You talk about a guy that for two years did the junior college thing at a place that wasn't easy to do the junior college thing, no facility, nowhere to practice, no weight room. Man, those guys fended for themselves in a lot of ways. That's who he is. He took a lot of pride in coming from that, never a guy that backed down from where he came from."

Get excited for the 2023 season with photos from Media Day at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.