E.A. Sports Today

‘That guy is special’

Piedmont quarterback Taylor Hayes draws praise from all circles after leading the Bulldogs to their second straight state title

Piedmont coach Steve Smith (R) has placed his trust in Taylor Hayes and the quarterback has delivered back-to-back state championships. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Piedmont coach Steve Smith (R) has placed his trust in Taylor Hayes and the quarterback has delivered back-to-back state championships. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

AUBURN – Piedmont quarterback Taylor Hayes couldn’t imagine a more perfect scene. Standing in the tunnel with the blue championship trophy in one hand and the MVP plaque in the other, it was a perfect ending to a perfect season in a perfect place.

Hayes was the driving force in a 22-12 victory over Mobile Christian that brought the Bulldogs their second straight state championship and a 15-0 season.

He ran around, through and over the Leopards for 239 yards on 38 carries and scored all three of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns. The fact that his final football game in a Piedmont uniform came at Jordan-Hare Stadium couldn’t have been better.

“I’m an Auburn guy,” he said. “My dad played here and we’ve had season tickets since I can remember. Since I’ve been able to walk I’ve been in this stadium almost every Saturday.

“I saw all the Auburn greats play here and I’m not gonna have a chance to play here in college so it was great to end my high school career in one of my favorite places in the world.”

He shouldn’t sell short. He might not ever play quarterback on The Plains, but the toughness he has displayed throughout his high school career, whether it be as an all-state defensive player as a freshman and sophomore or a record-setting starting quarterback the last two years, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win can’t be overlooked.

As it is, he leaves Piedmont No. 2 on the Bulldogs’ all-time rushing (3854) and rushing touchdowns (61) list and No. 1 in career yards (7875) and touchdown responsibility (106).

He finished this season with 1,864 yards and 36 touchdowns rushing and 1,906 yards passing. Whenever the Bulldogs needed to get something, he was the player who got it. He walked into the end zone for touchdowns Thursday and he put his head down and cleared out a would-be tackler on his way to a 65-yard gain.

“One second he’ll shake somebody and the next he’ll run over somebody,” offensive tackle Krae Kenner said. “It’s awesome having a quarterback like that. It’s hard to have a better quarterback than that. I don’t think there is one, honestly.”

It might even get him some consideration for Mr. Football. Not just in Class 3A, but the entire state.

“I think he’s got to be in the conversation,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “I will say this: If the award goes to the best high school football player for this year, I don’t know who you could pick that would be more deserving.”

Smith started getting emotional when asked moments after the game to describe all that Hayes has meant to the Bulldogs, a relationship that goes all the way back to his days as a manager in the fourth grade.

“That’s tough,” Smith said. “He’s a competitor; that’s the thing I can say the best about him. He doesn’t do anything any less than 100 percent. He gives great effort and gives credit to his offensive line.

“His linemen will run through a wall for Taylor because they know he’s got their back. He works as hard as they do and it’s just a pleasure to have had somebody like that lead our team the last couple years. I think his best characteristic is he elevates the play of everybody around him.”

With nothing beyond Thursday’s game but the eventual start of basketball practice and some Christmas shopping, there was really no reason to hold anything back Thursday. Add to it the fact it was his last game ever in the blue and gold, he was going to do “whatever it took” to bring a second straight championship back to Piedmont.

And in this case, that meant returning to his defensive roots in the title game, going in at safety right after the Leopards scored the first touchdown of the day on a long pass.

“He played safety today because we weren’t going to go down with our best football player on the sideline, plain and simple,” Smith said. “You do what you’ve gotta do to win today because there is no next week … If that mean we had to play seven or eight guys both ways, we were going to do what we had to do.

“It was so key not to give the momentum back to them Nothing against Taylor (Morrow, the safety Hayes replaced), but I got an all-state guy on the sideline that I’ve been saving all year for the moments he had to play … That was the right time to put him in.”

And, as expected, he never questioned it. In fact, he might have been anticipating it, having worked at second team safety all week in practice preparing like he was going to play.

“I talked to Steve before the game and told him that guy is special,” sad Mobile Christian coach Ronnie Cottrell, a former recruiting coordinator at Alabama and Florida State. “I’ve been in evaluation most of my life in college football and he’s a winner. He’s special.”

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