Former NFL cornerback D.J. Hayden, a first-round draft pick who played nine seasons in the league, was one of six people killed in a car crash Saturday morning in Houston, police confirmed to multiple outlets. Two other former players from the University of Houston also died in the crash: former cornerback Zach McMillian and former offensive tackle Ralph Oragwu. Another former player was injured.
“The entire University of Houston community is heartbroken over the tragic passing of former football student-athletes D.J. Hayden, Zachary McMillian and Ralph Oragwu earlier today, and our thoughts and prayers remain with Jeffery Lewis in his recovery ahead,” University of Houston Athletics said in a statement. “We extend our deepest condolences to their families, friends, and loved ones, as we collectively mourn the loss of three individuals who made an indelible impact on each life they touched.
“While their combined talents provided Houston Football some of its most unforgettable moments, their unique legacies will best be remembered for the way they loved their teammates, supported their communities and defied the odds.”
Megan Howard, assistant chief of the Houston Police Department, said that eight people were involved in the crash, which occurred when a car sped through a red light and collided with another vehicle. Four people were pronounced dead at the scene, including the driver who ran the red light, and two more were pronounced dead at a local hospital. Two others were hospitalized, according to Howard.
Hayden, McMillian and Oragwu were teammates at Houston and part of the Cougars’ 2011 team that went 13-1, setting a school single-season record for wins.
Hayden, who was 33, was the 12th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. He was drafted less than a year after suffering a life-threatening heart injury during a UH practice. During a 2012 practice, a collision with a teammate led to a tear of Hayden’s inferior vena cava, the main vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. The injury has a five percent survival rate, but because of quick action by Houston trainers and medical staff, Hayden was quickly transported to the hospital where he underwent open-heart surgery that saved his life.
Hayden played for Oakland, Detroit, Jacksonville and Washington during his pro career, finishing with 328 career tackles, four interceptions, 46 pass breakups and 4 1/2 sacks. He was a two-time All-Conference USA cornerback at Houston.
The Raiders Family is mourning the tragic loss of former cornerback D.J. Hayden. pic.twitter.com/cZPn9z181D
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) November 11, 2023
McMillian, who was 32, was a three-year starter at Houston, earned All-AAC honors in 2013 and played in the same secondary unit with Hayden in 2011-12. He finished his UH career with 154 career tackles, 11 interceptions and 31 pass breakups.
Oragwu, who was 31, started 11 games at tackle in his final two seasons with the Cougars. He was the starting left tackle in 2013, suffered a torn ACL in the season opener, but returned after missing 10 games to finish out his senior season.
Lewis, also a former Houston defensive back, played in 49 games in his Cougar career and was teammates with Hayden, McMillian and Oragwu. Lewis was also part of Houston’s record-setting 2011 squad.
(Photo of D.J. Hayden: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)