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Go-to receiver: Adams provides big plays for Tigers

Dakota Wesleyan's Hayden Adams (80) runs for yards after a catch against Jamestown on Sept. 9 at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

There once was a time when Hayden Adams—now a record-breaking wide receiver—didn't even want to play football.

The Dakota Wesleyan University senior wide receiver didn't start playing high school football until his freshman year and even then he was disinterested.

"I just didn't enjoy it," Adams said. "I wanted to work. I wanted to play hockey."

Adams' hockey roots almost pulled him to the ice for college.

"I know a lot of my family and friends wanted me to (play hockey)," Adams said. "Both my brothers play college back in Illinois. I guess I just took my own path."

His path has led the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Adams to rewriting the record books at DWU. He's on pace to finish among the leaders in career receiving yards and career receptions. Adams has 2,579 career receiving yards and 179 career receptions—both third all-time in school history. Bubba Slaba is No. 1 in receiving yards (2,881) and Anthony Muilenburg is No. 1 in career receptions (225).

Adams' production has increased each season. He caught just 12 receptions in 2014, but that jumped to 57 as a sophomore and 63 last season.

This season, he's taken his play up a notch. Adams has caught 47 catches this season, with still five regular-season games remaining. He's tops in the nation in receiving yards (808) and earlier this season broke a pair of school records against Doane University. Adams caught 18 receptions for 254 yards—both single game school records.

Adams picked DWU over interest from FCS, NCAA Division II and Division III teams, along with some other NAIA colleges. Adams attended a camp at South Dakota State University, which is where former DWU assistant coach Zeke Prado identified him as a prospect. Adams concluded his senior season at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Illinois, with 1,358 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.

Adams spurned offers from NCAA Division II schools Bemidji State and Minnesota State, Mankato, among others, to join the Tigers.

"I wasn't really interested after I came and visited here," Adams said. "I liked the coaching staff."

After DWU's coaches convinced him to join the Tigers in 2014, coach Ross Cimpl recalls how the former hockey standout needed time to adjust to the gridiron.

"It wasn't just second nature," Cimpl said. "He had a lot of learning to do and he put the work in to learn and do what he needed to do and he's reaping those benefits right now."

DWU senior quarterback Dillon Turner—who is also breaking records—has been along for the ride with Adams since 2014 as they've developed a strong relationship on the field.

"There's not a much better feeling knowing when you look over at his side and he is thinking the same thing you are," Turner said. "It makes my job easy when I can look over there and just throw him the ball and he will go catch it."

It's led to Adams being Turner's go-to receiver for the high-powered Tigers, who average an NAIA-best 615 yards per game.

"The chemistry is great between us," Adams said. "It seems like he can read me pretty well and we see the same things. It makes football—and just our transition—a lot easier for us."

The No. 22 Tigers (4-2) play at No. 4 Morningside College (5-0) in Sioux City, Iowa, at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.