Editor's note: With four coverage-area teams playing in the Super 7 this week in Auburn, this is the third in a series of Joe Medley pieces that highlight special players from Clay Central, Jacksonville, Oxford and Piedmont who will represent the 256 area code on the state’s biggest stage. Today: Piedmont’s Jack Hayes. Click here to read about other Bulldogs to watch.
PIEDMONT — It all sets up so perfectly, doesn’t it?
Piedmont is about to play for a state championship in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium again.
The opponent? Mobile Christian.
The quarterback? A guy named Hayes.
We all recall the last time that happened. Taylor Hayes rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns, and Piedmont beat the Leopards 22-12 for the third of the Bulldogs’ three Class 3A titles.
That was 2016. Thursday, Piedmont will play Mobile Christian again … same stakes, same stadium and a very different quarterback from the same family, at a very different point in his career.
Freshman Jack Hayes, welcome to the state’s biggest stage.
His first big chance and Piedmont’s latest chance come amid a rush of teams from the 256 area code to the Super 7. Besides Piedmont, three more will represent The Anniston Star’s coverage area: Oxford in 6A, Clay Central in 5A and Jacksonville in 4A.
Calhoun County’s three-team representation in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s championship round for football marks the most ever.
The big stage means big exposure for all involved, and Jack Hayes comes with comparisons to his older brother.
It’s inevitable, and the setup of same stakes, same opponent and same stadium make it even more so. Taylor Hayes’ most-valuable-player performance in 2016, behind an offensive line of all-time mashers, remains too fresh.
One of Calhoun County’s most decorated athletes finished with 29-1 career record as a starting quarterback. He was a two-time Alabama Sports Writers Association 3A back of the year and four-time, first-team all-state pick … twice at linebacker, twice at quarterback.
And that’s just football. He did big things in basketball and baseball, too.
Imagine being his little brother, coming up the ranks with those expectations.
Anyone expecting the two players to play the same kind of game, however, hasn’t seen Jack Hayes-era Piedmont play. This year’s roster, rich in wide receivers and thin on experience on the offensive line, commanded a different kind of game.
Taylor Hayes showed himself a more-than-capable passer. He threw for five touchdown passes when Ohatchee dared him in the 2016 semifinals.
But a stout, thick-legged quarterback with a linebacker’s mentality had 3A lineman of the year Mason Langley and other experienced, big movers in front of him. His and Piedmont’s best game involved Taylor Hayes and running back Lee Stanley running behind powering ahead, often not feeling a defender for five yards.
Jack Hayes comes plenty stout for a freshman. He can run, with 566 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to show for it this season, but he runs from a spread-out offense.
The rest of the time, Jack Hayes passes to a quartet of wide receivers, and he throws beyond his years. He’s thrown for 2,219 yards, but his most impressive stat hardly looks like the stat of a freshman quarterback … 39 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.
That’s almost a 4-to-1 ratio in a game where 2-to-1 is considered good.
Clearly, extended playing time as an eighth-grade backup helped.
Then again, the younger Hayes’ makeup probably helps in a more wide-open offense. Big brother, he’s not.
“Taylor is extremely competitive,” Smith said. “He has a personality a lot more like my own. Every play was win or lose, death or survival.
“Jack is a free-spirited kid. He’s a fun-loving kid who just loves to have a good time. He’s still serious about playing. He still has a competitive spirit to him, but he’ll probably live a lot longer than me or his brother.”
Jack still has a lot longer to play for Piedmont, as well. He’s broken every single-season school passing record, with three more years to compile career totals.
He also has a chance to get his first state championship two years ahead of Taylor, who won his two as a junior and senior.
It’s all part of life on the state’s biggest stage. As of Thursday, Jack Hayes will have that in common with Taylor Hayes.
Same stakes, same opponent, same stadium but different quarterback.
“That’s something that me and him have talked about several times, because I do think a lot of people expect him to meet the expectations of being Taylor’s little brother,” Smith said. “What I’ve tried to tell him from day one is, ‘Just be the best Jack Hayes you can be.’”