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Small-school life suits Centre's star

More news about: Berry | Centre | Hardin-Simmons | Washington U.
In his first season as a starter for the Colonels, Devin Hayes has passed for 2,816 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Centre athletics photo

Devin Hayes turned a handful of heads, dropped a few jaws and made more than a few people go "Wow" with his sensational performance against Rhodes on Saturday afternoon.

Centre’s rising star brought a couple of school records to their knees in an SAA game against the Lynx, shredding the defense for 527 passing yards and picking it apart for seven touchdowns.

“It was definitely a cool feeling, but I couldn’t have done it without everyone else on the team doing their jobs,” Hayes said. “As great as that game was, I still have things I can work on. I’ve thrown nine interceptions. That’s too high. I need to take care of the ball more.

Still, it’s been a heck of a year for Hayes, who has thrown for 2,816 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Those stats are impressive and when you look at what he did against Rhodes, you really stop and wonder how the junior quarterback ever ended up in Division III football in the first place.

Hayes is everything you want in a student-athlete. He threw for nearly 6,500 yards and close to 90 touchdowns as a high school football player in Kentucky, propelling Bowling Green to a couple of state championships. That alone should have caught the attention of recruiters.

Off the field, he gets the job done in the classroom, and that should have been added incentive for schools to go after him.

His high school football coach called Hayes the most under-recruited player he has ever coached. Hayes will tell you it was tough dealing with the feeling of being overlooked by bigger schools but he isn’t sweating it now.

Neither is Centre, which is on the doorstep of a conference championship heading into the final week of the regular season.

“It was frustrating because every kid wants to be a Division I athlete,” Hayes said. “I made some visits to bigger schools, including Kentucky, but the big thing about Centre was that I would have a chance to play college football and still have the opportunity to be a student and get a well-rounded college experience. I’m happy with the way things worked out.”

It took time for Hayes to get to where he is now. He had to from being the star in high school to a player who had to wait his turn. Hayes, after all, began his career playing behind Heath Haden, one of the best in school and conference history.

“I trusted in the process,” Hayes said. “I was behind a great quarterback, and I learned from the experience of playing behind him. I was confident I could do well this year because I had an opportunity to learn for two years.”

He also saw limited playing time and was thrown into the fire so to speak in 2014 in an opening round playoff game against John Carroll. Haden suffered a concussion, leaving Hayes, only a freshman at the time, in a position where he had to play. Hayes threw for 224 yards in the 63-28 loss.

The game has slowed down a great deal for Hayes since then, especially now that he is the starter. He’s learned to be poised in the pocket and to make the big throws when necessary. It’s why Centre is 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the SAA heading into its battle with Berry. A win gives Centre the title and the automatic berth to the playoffs.

“I remember going to the playoffs as a freshman, but this is a little different because we already had the conference wrapped up going into the final game my freshman year,” Hayes said. “We know we are up against a very good opponent and it’s a must-win for both of us. We lost control of our destiny after the loss to Hendrix, but now it’s back in our hands”

So while Hayes isn’t playing under the bright lights of a big school, he’s happy with where he’s at.

He’s excelling on the field and off it -- Hayes was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team last week -- and is looking forward to making the most of every opportunity that comes his way.

“I know a lot of great athletes from high school who didn’t make it to college football,” Hayes said. “To be able to play the game I love and get a great education is amazing. I’m fortunate to be where I am.”

Vikings and Bears still in title hunt

Berry and Washington both took care of business Saturday, keeping themselves in the hunt for the SAA title and an automatic berth to the NCAA playoffs.

The Vikings rolled to a 38-12 win over Birmingham-Southern, stretching their win streak to four games, while the Bears held off a late rally by Hendrix to come away with a 49-46 win.

Berry and Washington join Centre in a three-way tie for first place. Berry and Centre square off Saturday and the Vikings, who lost to Washington earlier this year, must beat the Colonels and hope for a Bears loss.

The Bears finish out the year in Chicago against the rival Maroons and need to come out on top and hope Centre falls as well.

Berry is coming off its first win ever over Birmingham-Southern and won thanks in part to a tremendous effort by senior wide receiver Trey Ciresi, who caught his 10th touchdown pass of the season, setting a single-season school record. Ciresi leads the Vikings in receiving with 52 catches  for 832 yards.

Washington sealed the deal when Nick Annin blocked a potential game-tying field goal with two minutes left. Jake Coon paved the way defensively with 17 tackles, and Dylan Newcomb broke the kickoff return yardage record, pushing his total to 1,651.

Padron announces retirement

On the same weekend Southwestern clinched its first conference championship in football in 70 years, winning the SCAC crown for the first time since resurrecting football in 2013, over at Texas Lutheran Danny Padron announced his retirement as the head coach of the Bulldogs.

He first mentioned to me in an ATR column last month that his plan was to retire and this Saturday’s game against Southwestern will be his last on the Bulldogs sideline.

Padron has coached at Texas Lutheran for seven years, winning three SCAC titles, and owns a career record of 40-29 at the school. His team is only 2-7 this year but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he will leave as the all-time wins leader at the school. He has spent 46 years coaching in all, fashioning an overall record of 105-59. The total includes games he coached at the high school level in Texas.

Padron is responsible for reviving a Bulldogs program that was coming off a 0-10 campaign when he took over in 2010. The 2014 season was his most memorable, leading the Bulldogs to a second consecutive SCAC crown and a berth in the NCAA playoffs.

He is a three-time coach of the year in the SCAC, and there is no question the program is in good hands as it transitions back to the ASC in football only next season. That is a credit to all Padron has done to turn around a program that went from hoping to win to expecting to win.

Cowboys win ASC showdown

Hardin-Simmons and East Texas Baptist collided in a showdown of nationally ranked ASC teams, and the Cowboys came on top, managing points in all three phases of the game to roll to a 66-30 victory.

Alex Bell returned a kickoff 96 yards, Matthew Hawkins scored off a fumble recovery with a 55-yard run and as usual, the high-powered offense of the Cowboys was clicking on all cylinders thanks in large part to four touchdown passes by Ryan Breton.

The game marked the fifth time this year Hardin-Simmons has scored more than 50 in a game.

Bell’s kickoff return for a score was his third of the season. He ranks second in all-purpose yards on the team with 614 kickoff return yards and 639 receiving yards. Bell also caught a touchdown pass in Saturday’s win, pushing his season total to nine.

As for Hawkins, the fumble recovery was his first of the year. He ranks third on the team in tackles (60) for a Hardin-Simmons team that has scored three touchdowns off fumbles this season.

Sideline notes

Austin Smestad made his senior day at Washington one to remember, rushing for 197 yards and three touchdowns as the Bears edged Hendrix 49-46 and remained in a tie for first place in the SAA. He moved into seventh all-time on the career rushing list with 1,737 yards.

Colt Collins didn’t disappoint in his first career start for Austin, throwing for 200 yards and rushing for 98 more as the Kangaroos topped Trinity Lutheran 30-28 for their first SCAC win. Collins threw a pair of touchdown passes and also rushed for two, including on a 4-yard game-winning run early in the fourth as Austin snapped a five-game losing streak and won its first road game.

Charles Smith picked off a pass on Louisiana College’s final drive of the game and helped McMurry hang on for a 34-28 win. The win was the second in a row for the War Hawks. Smith was part of a defensive effort that limited the Wildcats to 69 rushing yards. Smith’s interception was the 25th turnover the War Hawks have forced this season. It was his second of the year.

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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