PIEDMONT — Taylor Hayes knew there would be pressure going into his senior season. It was almost expected after the junior season he had.
As a junior, he led Piedmont to the school’s second state championship and was the Class 3A Back of the Year. He was also first team all-state and The Anniston Star’s Class 1A-3A Calhoun County Player of the Year. He had a lot to live up to this year, but he’s done that and some.
Hayes and Piedmont will play for a second consecutive state championship today against Mobile Christian in the title game at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. Along the way, Hayes has put up some impressive numbers with 1,625 yards rushing with 33 touchdowns along with completing 125-of-198 passes for 1,867 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Last week, against Ohatchee he threw five touchdown passes and ran for two more in the Bulldogs’ 53-26 win in the semifinals.
“It’s been a really special season,” Hayes said. “It’s kind of been bittersweet. It’s my senior year and I’ve been around Coach (Steve) Smith and the program since I was in fourth grade. I really wish that I could rewind a little bit, but we’re all just going to try and go out on top Thursday.”
His season has also earned him a spot in the Piedmont record books with multiple broken records. His performance against Ohatchee broke the single-season passing touchdown record with 24 breaking the old record of 23 set by his cousin Tyler Lusk in 2014. His five touchdown passing performance last week also tied the school record for most passing touchdowns in a game with Steve Sewell from 1970.
Piedmont head coach Steve Smith said Hayes ranks right at the top of the quarterbacks he’s coached at Piedmont, and he’s coached some good ones.
“We’ve had a lot of good quarterbacks and they’ve all had a lot of great attributes that allow them to lead their team,” Smith said. “The best thing I can say about Taylor is he doesn’t care about records and he doesn’t care about individual awards.”
Going into the year, Hayes said his main focus wasn’t living up to his accomplishments from his junior year but more getting the team another state championship trophy.
“I really just wanted to get back to state and win it again, but it’s always nice when you can get individual awards,” Hayes said. “Like Coach Smith always says, if you set your goals to win every game and help the team as best you can then that stuff is going to come with it.”
Piedmont returned a lot of talent from last year’s team, but one area the Bulldogs lost a lot of talent to graduation was in skill players. All-state running back Darnell Jackson was gone along with linebacker and fullback Neonta Alexander, receivers Bayley Blanchard, Wil Mitchell and Chase Keener. Hayes and tight end/fullback Austin Brazier were just about the only skill players returning with extensive playing experience.
So Hayes took it upon himself to help lead the new group of skill players and they’ve stepped up.
Lee Stanley has rushed for 1,621 yards and 16 touchdowns. Receiver Darrien Bossie has 560 yards receiving with nine touchdown receptions.
“I think the better story this year is the job he’s done grooming those young skill guys,” Smith said. “The Lee Stanleys, Darrien Bossies and TJ Fairs. The way those guys have been able to make contributions to our offense this year speaks more to Taylor’s leadership than anything else. I think that’s what he’s most proud of.”
Hayes now has his focus on his final high school football game at Piedmont. He’s proud of what he’s accomplished during his time playing for the Bulldogs and glad that his name will forever be in the record books at a program like Piedmont.
But he’s more proud of getting the chance to play for a great school like Piedmont. He also thinks the future of the program is bright, especially with his younger brother Jackson coming up the ranks.
“I’m sure those records will be broken again with all the success Piedmont is having,” Hayes said. “I don’t mind that at all — maybe it will be my little brother.”