NORMAN — Quentin Hayes wasn't a part of Oklahoma's defense when it traveled to West Virginia last November.
By that time, Hayes was back with the team but serving a yearlong suspension following an unspecified violation of team rules.
Entering Saturday's Big 12 opener against the Mountaineers, Hayes is big part of the Sooner secondary. He earned the starting spot at strong safety entering last week's season opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
It had been a long time coming for Hayes, who hadn't played since the Bedlam game to close the regular season in 2011.
“It's been a long time,” Hayes said. “It was a drag (last year). I had to do a lot of things to get back on the team. I was just anxious to get back out there this year.”
Hayes returned with a pair of tackles against the Warhawks, but his presence was even bigger, Sooners coaches said.
“He really tackled well, was where he needed to be all the time,” coach Bob Stoops said.
Hayes is one of the faster safeties the Sooners have had for awhile.
That has taken pressure off free safety Gabe Lynn.
“I think Quentin Hayes adds a dimension to our secondary we haven't had with the speed and athleticism to cover along with Gabe.”
Whatever he was doing, Hayes was just happy to be back on the field.
Hayes was one of four players — Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson were the others — suspended in May 2012. Hayes was removed from scholarship for his transgressions and had to earn his way back on the team.
The Lancaster, Texas, native had already burned his redshirt year, so he lost a year of eligibility in the process.
“It was tough last year,” Hayes said. “It kind of messed with your head, but I love football so it was something you've just got to do.”
Hayes said he never considered leaving. He said teammates kept encouraging him.
“Every week, they'd let me know, ‘Coach asked about you; coach wants you back over there,'” Hayes said. “So it just kind of kept me going, and I'm here now.”
Julian Wilson is excited to see what Hayes does the rest of the season.
“Now he has his head on straight,” Wilson said. “He's ready to make an impact this year.
“I've always known Q could play. We came in as freshmen and redshirted together. We always said, all of us that came in my freshman year, we're gonna get on the field at one point together. Now that time has come. I'm ready for his time to come.”
It was a long process getting back in the coaches' good graces.
The past 18 months have made Hayes a better player, both on the field and in the way he prepares.
“Just the fact that I've came so far from being off the team to coming back and letting them know they can trust me out there on the field,” Hayes said. “I think that was a big part of it, just being somebody they can count on.”
By the Iowa State game on Nov. 3, Hayes had earned his way back to the team.
“I didn't get to play, but it was cool going on the road again and being out there instead of being suspended,” Hayes said.
Hayes also likes the more aggressive defensive scheme this year, with the Sooners forcing defensive pressure instead of reading and reacting as much to the offense.
But he also knows not to read too much into one game.
“It was just fun going out there being able to shut somebody out and most importantly, we just tried not to let it go to our heads,” Hayes said. “Don't try to get too confident and too thinking that we're all this and that because we shut someone else out. We're just trying to build and get better.”