|Miami walk-on still grappling with father's death|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 14 August 2009 09:43|
A walk-on college football player gets word that his father, without warning, has taken his own life. He leaves the team to be at his mother's side for the funeral, is summoned back for game day so he can suit up for the first time, gets lost on the way to the stadium, is sent onto the field for the final play and is carried off atop his teammates' shoulders.
Based on a true story. His own.
``Once you find out his story,'' Miami coach Randy Shannon said, ``you've got to say, 'That's what it's all about.'''
Hayes is 5-foot-9, 170 pounds and, by his own admission, lacks the size, strength and athleticism found at college football's highest level.
But for one moment last fall, Hayes was Miami's star.
eam? Why did this happen?''
Against Wake Forest last Oct. 25, he got his answers.
It started with a phone call on Monday of that week.
Harry Michael Hayes, 60, the man who encouraged his son to try out for the Hurricanes, the Dodgers fan who loved playing catch, the funny guy who always wanted to be the life of the party, was gone. Chris Hayes declines to reveal how or why it happened, saying those details need to stay within the family.
After the call, Hayes' first stop was the office of Miami assistant coach Joe Pannunzio.
``I'll start crying right now, thinking about it,'' Pannunzio said. ``It was a pretty emotional thing for all of us.''
Chris Hayes quickly left for home, Sarasota, Fla. He stayed in contact with Pannunzio during the week, and got an offer he couldn't refuse. Miami would host Wake Forest that Saturday, and if Hayes wanted to get back in time, he would be in uniform.
It would be Hayes' first football game. Ever. His high school didn't offer football, until he convinced officials there to start a program - which came too late for him to play. He was on the Hurricanes' roster in 2006 and 2007, but never played. He's a walk-on, someone who gets other guys ready to play each week by sacrificing his body in practice.
ly, Miami players arrive on chartered buses).
Once Hayes arrived, teammates swarmed his locker.
``It kind of got my mind away from everything, that getaway, that escape from what happened, which was nice,'' Hayes said.
The game was close throughout. Wake Forest led 10-3 at halftime, but Miami scored 13 unanswered points after intermission and led 16-10 when the final drive started with 3:13 remaining.
Everyone on the sideline, it seemed, was looking at Hayes.
``Football comes behind family. Family and God are more important than this,'' Miami left tackle Jason Fox said. ``Football is life around here, but you've got to keep your priorities straight. And when something like that happens to one of your teammates, to someone in your family, you've got to reach out. That day, whatever we could do, that's what we wanted to do.''
That meant getting Hayes on the field.
Miami got a first down. And another. Victory was sealed. Pannunzio summoned Hayes, sending him in at tight end for the final play.
Hayes was so excited, he forgot to put in his mouth guard.
``My first ever football experience of my entire life, and I'm going in at tight end,'' Hayes said. ``I'm thinking, great, this is a good fit for me.''
He lined up against Aaron Curry, the Wake Forest star who was the No. 4 pick in this year's NFL draft.
``Just stick with me,'' Fox said to Hayes. ``You'll be fine.''
The game ended on that play. Hayes was hoisted. His mother, Kathie, wept with joy from the stands.
``Right after their prayer at the end of the game, he motioned for me to come to the bottom row of the stands. He jumped the railing, we just stood there and hugged and it was a special moment,'' Kathie Hayes said. ``We showed each other and all of our friends that we are there for each other and we'll continue to be there for each other.''
In the locker room, Shannon gave him the game ball.
``We talk about family,'' Shannon said softly. ``Chris Hayes is our family.''
The grief was still there. But for a few minutes, a mother and son could put it aside.
``My son loves the University of Miami. He loves University of Miami football,'' Kathie Hayes said. ``For him to be a part of it, even in a small way, has been very meaningful to him. And after they did what they did for my son and for our family, don't anybody ever tell me anything negative ever again about a football player or coach at the University of Miami.''
Chris Hayes is a senior. He's bidding to play more this year; he's competing for the job as holder on kicks.
Not a day goes by when he doesn't think of his father.
'm doing. So I'm doing it for him.''