Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Florida State linebacker Geno Hayes has died after being diagnosed with liver disease two years ago and while awaiting a liver transplant. He was 33.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of Geno Hayes' passing," the Bucs said in a statement Tuesday. "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. He frequently visited schools and had a remarkable ability to connect with children. Losing him at such a young age is heartbreaking. Our thoughts are with his family."
Hayes, who also played for the Bears and Jaguars during his career, had been placed in hospice care at his parents' home in Valdosta, Georgia, earlier this month.
Despite being hospitalized over 20 times in the past year, Hayes was optimistic about getting a new liver. He told ESPN he had been placed on a waiting list at the Mayo Clinic and Northwestern Medicine in December.
Hayes, whose health began deteriorating rapidly last month, told ESPN that he believed over-the-counter pain medicines he took while playing -- Tylenol, Advil and Aleve -- and a family history caused his liver to fail. He told ESPN he took the non-prescription medications because he believed they were safer than shots of Toradol.
For most of the two years he was suffering, he didn't disclose his condition to many people outside of his family and close circle of friends.
"I wanted more to know but didn't want to be a burden," said Hayes, who instead opted to go to therapy to cope with his condition. Toward the end of his life, he began to open up in hopes it could help others.
"I think maybe just to inspire a person going through something similar [who] needs that extra motivation," Hayes told ESPN. "It may inspire someone to never give up."
Hayes played for the Bucs from 2008 to 2011, the Bears in 2012, and Jaguars from 2013 to 2014. He made 70 starts during his NFL career, totaling 401 tackles, 10 sacks, 6 interceptions, and 6 forced fumbles.
"My prayers and thoughts are with Geno Hayes' family and loved ones after his untimely passing," said a statement from New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, who coached Hayes while with the Jaguars as an assistant. "Having the opportunity to spend time with him, I saw Geno's passion and love for not only football but for life itself. He was an amazing person who left a mark on everyone who had the pleasure of connecting with him."