Hayden Specht’s only collegiate interception to date came on Nov. 16, 2019, when the UAlbany safety picked off New Hampshire quarterback Max Brosmer near the goal line to help preserve a close UAlbany win.
Last Friday, when the Great Danes began their spring football season at New Hampshire, Specht once again found himself coming up with a big play to deny Brosmer and the Wildcats — out of the exact same coverage, as he broke up a fourth-down pass intended for Nick Lorden in the end zone that squashed the final chance for a New Hampshire comeback and sealed UAlbany’s 24-20 win.
“We knew we were maybe going to get into that fourth-and-long, third-and-long situation,” Specht said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters, “and we went back to that coverage. They ran a deep corner route, I just played it right and it worked out for us.”
That Specht finds himself in position to make big plays at opportune moments is of little surprise to UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso.
In fact, it’s exactly what Gattuso loves about the redshirt senior defensive back, even if Specht lacks ideal size for his position at just 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds.
“Hayden has every single intangible you look for in a football player,” Gattuso said. “He just doesn’t have the natural size. But, he just seems to make plays — over and over and over again. I trust him.”
Beyond his stature, Specht is cut from Gattuso’s ideal mold for a football player.
The Cincinnati, Ohio native is the son of a football coach, playing for his father, Stephen’s powerhouse St. Xavier Institute program in high school. Growing up as a coach’s kid ingrains a “certain mentality” that Gattuso appreciates.
That has led Specht to carve an integral role in the UAlbany (1-0 CAA, 1-0 overall) secondary, progressing from a role on special teams as a redshirt freshman to appearing in all 14 games on defense in 2019 and producing 33 tackles.
“When you have these players that might not be the classic physical size or the classic speed you’re looking for, but boy, those intangibles matter so much,” Gattuso said. “[Specht] has the intangibles of a superstar football player. He makes the most of what God gave him, physically. I love having him on my team.”
Specht has a few key tools for surviving in the land of the giants.
He may be going up against a bunch of bigger players, he said, but he tries to keep a step ahead by playing fast and playing smart.
“You’re going up against 6-5 tight ends, 6-5 offensive tackles that weigh 315 pounds,” he said. “My edge has always been that I’m going to know exactly what I need to do, I’m going to know what the other team’s going to need to do. That mental edge is something that I have to play with. I have to play with speed and a mental edge.”
Oh, and a willingness to throw himself into the fray like he’s bigger than he really is.
“I play with a chip on my shoulder,” Specht said. “I try to be physical, but knowing what I need to do is a huge key for me to being successful on the field.”
That combination — fast, physical and savvy — goes a long way toward laying a foundation for success, regardless of size.
It’s worked out for Specht twice against New Hampshire, and he’s hopeful that mindset will carry himself and the Great Danes once again Saturday when they go on the road to face Maine.
“That’s our mentality,” Specht said, “just find a way to get through and push through.”