Football Preview 2016: Sherando’s Hayes primed with new mindset

Sherando senior Jacquari Hayes should play an important role at receiver and free safety for the Warriors this fall. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Spend enough time with Sherando High School’s football program and you’ll eventually hear head coach Bill Hall stressing the importance of his players “living in the moment.”

It’s a mentality Hall has been preaching to his players for some time now, and it’s one that senior Jacquari Hayes admits he initially had trouble grasping.

“It was very difficult because growing up I’ve always been a thinker,” Hayes said prior to practice earlier this month. “I’m always thinking about different things.”

On the football field Hayes, a wide receiver, would often find his mind racing as he ran through the Warriors’ passing plays in his head, he said, and he would worry about committing blunders that would draw the ire of Hall or one of his assistant coaches. Hayes said he was overly concerned about “stuff I don’t need to be worrying about.”

Those issues, Hayes hopes, are now in the past, as a combination of maturity and playing experience has him in a more relaxed mental state in his final high school season, he said.

“I think probably more than anything, he’s always been very athletic, but I think he’s gained a lot of confidence over the last year and that’s because of his success with football last year,” Hall said. “He built on that in basketball and then in track he had a lot of success. So I expect the sky is the limit for him just because his confidence now goes along with his athleticism. He’s very gifted.”

In his first year as a varsity starter last season, the fleet-footed Hayes emerged as Sherando’s second-leading receiver when he hauled in 15 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that trailed only those of standout linebacker/tight end and fellow senior Dylan Rivers (26 catches, 614 yards, 6 TDs).

The 6-foot, 170-pound Hayes said much of his offseason work – which he has to balance around his participation on Sherando’s boys basketball and track teams – focused on improving his footwork and route-running, and he has concentrated on becoming more physical in order to be a more effective run blocker on the perimeter.

Hall praised Hayes’ growth in both areas since he began practicing with the varsity team as a sophomore in 2014.

“He understands what we’re trying to accomplish with the route, so he has some flexibility to work to make sure he can get to where he needs to get to,” Hall said. “And he attacks the ball in the air, which is something that separates a lot of receivers is the way he goes and plays the ball.”

Once Hayes has the ball in his hands, his speed can create problems for opposing defenses.

“I like to think I’m the fastest person out there and I need to be running full speed,” said Hayes, a Conference 21 West track champion in the boys 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and triple jump last spring. “It really helps because when you run your route at full speed, you know your routes so the corner’s not gonna know where you’re going. As long as you’re running full speed you should always have the advantage over the cornerback.”

While Hayes should provide an important veteran presence at receiver for sophomore first-year quarterback Hunter Entsminger, he can expect to get his first taste of significant varsity playing time on the other side of the ball this year.

Hall said Hayes, who saw plenty of playing time at free safety for Sherando’s JV team in 2014, will “absolutely” be a steady presence in a defensive secondary that will also feature fellow speedsters Nathan Wagner and Aaron Banks.

“He’s a great free safety,” Hall said of Hayes. “He has great ball skills. Him being back there allows us to, you know, he’s your typical free safety from the standpoint of he can be an eraser. He can make up for some mistakes by other guys. Not that that’s what happens, but often that’s what their role is, to make a game saving tackle or prevent a touchdown. … He has all the characteristics and I think he’s embraced that role, so I anticipate a lot of snaps in the secondary for him.”

Hall called Hayes a “good kid” from a “nice family,” and a humble, hardworking athlete who fits the mold of a silent leader-type – a role Hayes openly embraces.

“I’m not a vocal person,” Hayes said. “I don’t really talk a lot, but I like to think of myself as like a person that leads by example. So yeah I might not get on a certain player, might not talk and be vocal, but I’m there for them to watch and learn.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com