Former NFL, Florida State star Geno Hayes dies at 33

"I'm enjoying life, I'm spending more time with my kids and I really want to help people," Hayes recently said in an interview with ESPN.

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Former Florida State University (FSU) star linebacker Eugene Antonio “Geno” Hayes passed away Monday night after a two-year battle with chronic liver disease at the age of 33.

In 2008, Hayes launched his NFL career after being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. By 2014, Hayes had played with the Bucs, Chicago Bears, and Jacksonville Jaguars


In an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat, Madison County High School coach Mike Coe reflected on what he would tell his players about Hayes, saying, “that he absolutely loved being a Cowboy, great teammate, practiced like he played, with relentless energy, juice, passion. Fearless,” Coe said. “Then later to see the Dad that he turned into, the joy that his kids brought him.”

Read More: Former FSU star Dontavious Jackson says he was called N-word, nearly arrested on flight

Geno Hayes thegrio.com
Geno Hayes #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 29, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

‘The Cowboy’ Coe referred to is the mascot for Madison County High School in Northern Florida’s Madison County where Hayes played football before starting college at FSU in 2005. That year, the Greenville, Florida native was ranked as a four-star player and the no. 5 player in the state of Florida by Rivals.com.

Hayes, who was a husband to wife, Shevelle, and father of two children, Gemarii and Skyler, spoke recently with ESPN about his liver disease diagnosis. 

“The first diagnosis they gave me was alcoholic cirrhosis. But when we dug in deeper, it became just chronic liver disease, because I don’t drink like that. If I did drink, it was just like wine or something like that. But my body is made different. And that’s what [my doctor] said — ‘Everybody’s made different.’”

Over the past few months, Hayes was in hospice care at his parent’s home in Valdosta, Georgia. He was waitlisted for a transplant by the Mayo Clinic and Northwestern Medicine in December 2020, according to ESPN

Geno Hayes thegrio.com
In this handout image provided by the NFL, Geno Hayes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

Hayes also told ESPN that he suspected his use of over-the-counter pain medications and a family history of liver disease contributed to his condition. He also spoke of the depression he battled following his diagnosis but said that he became more open to sharing his story.  “I’m enjoying life, I’m spending more time with my kids and I really want to help people.” 

Read More: NFL must face players’ class action lawsuit over painkillers

On Tuesday, tributes from the communities Hayes touched during his life and career poured in online. 

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Geno Hayes’ passing. During his time with the Buccaneers, Geno was a beloved teammate and often the first player to volunteer his time to our efforts in the community,” read an official statement from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “He frequently visited schools and had a remarkable ability to connect with children. Losing him at such a young age is heartbreaking. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Mike Norvell, current head football coach at Florida State University, also shared condolences. 

“Thoughts and prayer for the family and friends of Geno Hayes. He lived his life as a tremendous Seminole who impacted so many throughout his journey on and off the field. His legacy will live on.”

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