Iowa Football

Hayden, meet Hayden: NIU's Sak named after legendary former Iowa football coach

Northern Illinois long-snapper Hayden Sak is named after legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry.
Northern Illinois long-snapper Hayden Sak is named after legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry.

CEDAR RAPIDS — He saw the irony in it. Most long snappers prefer to go through their college football lives anonymously.

For obvious reasons.

“It’s just kind of funny that I’m doing a phone interview before the game because now people might know my name,” Hayden Sak said Tuesday. “That’s usually not what we want. But it’s all good with me. Usually the only way people know your name is if you mess up. So, hopefully, you will not hear my name one time on Saturday. Unless I’m making a tackle.”

The Northern Illinois junior comes with his team to Iowa City this weekend. The Huskies play Iowa at 2:35 Saturday afternoon in a season opener.

The annual FRYFest celebration precedes the game Friday in Coralville, which brings us back to Sak.

His last name conjures up a fierce pass-rushing defensive end, though he’s not. The first name makes you think of, well, legendary former Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry.

As it did his parents: Tom and Michelle Sak.

“Our young family lived in Cedar Rapids in 1997, which I believe may have been Hayden Fry’s final season,” Tom Sak said in an email. “I was a sales rep calling on the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the V.A. Medical Center in Iowa City. At the time, my wife, Michelle, and I had 18-month-old boy, girl twins, and she became pregnant again while we were living in Iowa.”

The Saks soon left the state for the Chicago area, where they would settle. Michelle Sak eventually gave birth to an 11-pound, five-ounce boy.

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“(We) struggled with finding a name fitting of his size,” Tom Sak said. “Being from Chicago and a Big Ten football fan, everyone knew not only of Hayden Fry’s name and success as a coach, but also about him being a great person. Inspired by our son’s Iowa roots, we named him Hayden, after Iowa’s famous coach.”

Now some 20 years later, the Saks will return to the University of Iowa: mom and dad as fans at Kinnick Stadium and Hayden as a player. Kind of cool.

Even if Hayden doesn’t know a whole lot about the coach he is named after.

“No, really not much,” he said. “I wish I did know more. That’s my namesake. But from what I know, he was a legendary coach. I believe he was the coach before (Kirk) Ferentz, right?”

Sak knew he wasn’t good enough to earn a D-I scholarship as an offensive lineman, so he shopped himself around as a long snapper. His high school coach snapped at NIU, and that was his in.

He initially went to school as a walk-on, but won the long-snapping job as a freshman and was awarded a scholarship.

“I kind of used my negotiation skills,” he said, with a laugh. “That’s what I tell prospective jobs when I interview, is that I’ve got a little sales experience from using (another) scholarship as a bargaining chip. Here I am.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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