Like most any boy growing up in Mobile, Walker Hayes' early goal in his sporting career was obvious. Star at Alabama and then be drafted into the NFL.
While it hasn't quite worked out that way for the country music singer/songwriter, he has found the No. 1 overall draft pick of his profession.
Hayes, who will appear in concert in Las Vegas on Saturday night, five days before the draft kicks off in town, had the megahit of 2021 with “Fancy Like.” The song not only crushed it on the charts and through every music medium, it also launched a dance craze thanks to a TikTok he and daughter Lela concocted. Hayes' mention of Applebee's restaurant in the lyrics basically made his song part of the menu.
“That's a humbling comparison,” he says of “Fancy Like's” success in relation to the draft, "only because as a child my first dreams were to go pro like most kids in Alabama. I was put at defensive end in eighth or ninth grade, and I'm thinking, `This is it, I will be hitting quarterbacks the rest of my life.'
“When you say a first-round pick at the draft, that is one human selected out of millions and millions of kids who said one time in their life, `I will be the first draft pick in the NFL.' `Fancy Like' is like that for me, for sure. But I would have been happy with being a sixth-rounder, or just let me walk on, let me long snap for a team. I just wanted to be on the field. To be compared that way with that song, it is really mind-blowing to process. It's kind of put me up on stages and I'm sizing up the competition and asking, do I belong here? Well, I might not belong here, but the song does.”
Hayes has shown he belongs with a pair of follow-up hits: “AA” and “U Girl.” In fact, he had to change the lyrics in “AA” after losing a bet to ESPN analyst David Pollack on the college football title game between the Crimson Tide and Georgia. So a mention of Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart made its way into the tune rather than Nick Saban.
No matter to Hayes, really. As with all ‘Bama fans, he has experienced a load of winning, right from the days he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Hold on Bear, I'm Comin'” as a youngster.
His family, as happens often in Alabama, was split between the Tide and the Auburn Tigers. Hayes' father rooted for Auburn and his mother for 'Bama. Several of his brothers went to school in Tuscaloosa.
“Not sure how my mom won that battle, but I came out a Bama fan,” he says with a laugh.
Now that he, wife Laney and their six children live in Nashville, where a certain Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama happens to be the best running back in the NFL, Hayes has become a Titans fan, too.
"Derrick Henry and me have corresponded on Instagram during COVID," he notes. "I am big on rooting for athletes, and especially then while they were not able to have the exposure.
“Sports is such a great metaphor for life, with everything consolidated down to one game. I am always trying to teach my kids something from sports. Most definitely inspiration for me comes from sports.”
He was bummed that the Titans didn't get to the AFC championship game, when Hayes performed at halftime in January. He also did the halftime show for the semifinal playoff match between Georgia and Michigan.
The draft comes at a good time for Hayes, who currently is on an extended national tour. It's football, even if no passes are thrown or field goals are attempted.
“I just love the Tide,” he reiterates, acknowledging that dozens of Alabama players get chosen in the opening round of the draft. "I went to Birmingham Southern, a lot of my college dates and weekends were spent driving to some of those rivalry games and to Tuscaloosa.
"We started having kids and, honestly, it was just a me-and-Laney thing, and now it's a family thing. We are depressed when football ends.
“I have six kids — we're like a circus rolling up — so that’s a lot of tickets. We went to our first Iron Bowl with my kids, that was nuts. Now they are all in.”
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