STEPHENS CITY — After the University of New Hampshire called in late June to inform Jabril Hayes they were offering him a football scholarship, it didn’t take long for the tears to start flowing from the Sherando senior’s eyes.
“Ever since I was younger I had told my mom that I wanted to play college football, I wanted to play D-I football,” said Hayes after Tuesday’s practice at Sherando (2-0). “Just for that to happen, it was mind-blowing. With that phone call and that conversation, it just made me want to continue to work harder.”
Those who know the Warrior wide receiver and free safety wouldn’t have been surprised by Hayes’ emotional response. That emotion is one of the reasons why Hayes is so appreciated.
“Passionate. I think that’s the first word to come to mind [to describe Hayes],” Sherando coach Bill Hall said. “He’s a kid that’s really worked hard to realize his potential in the offseason.
“And he’s a really good leader. I think it’s easy to just say ‘Lead’ and people just think that’s yelling and screaming, and it’s so much more than that. I think he really wants to be a great leader, and [the coaching staff] challenges him so he can help make the team better.”
“Everybody likes him,” said Sherando senior linebacker and running back Payne Bauer. “He’s pretty energetic. He’s vocal. He’s someone people can go to if they have questions.”
Hayes’ stats and college offers are enough to make anyone take notice. As a first-year starter last year he was a second team Class 4 All-Northwestern District selection on both offense (19 catches for 280 yards and three touchdowns) and defense (51 tackles, four interceptions).
Since receiving the scholarship offer from New Hampshire, fellow Division I schools Saint Francis and the Virginia Military Institute have followed with their own invitations to have Hayes to play for them. (New Hampshire and Saint Francis are recruiting Hayes as an athlete, VMI is interested in Hayes playing defense.)
The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Hayes is also in a position to have people take notice of him because he’s one of Sherando’s four captains. For Hayes though, the label of “captain” doesn’t hold special significance.
“I feel like some people get that captain role and they just take advantage of it,” Hayes said. “I’d just rather be a good teammate the best way that I can. I noticed early that a lot of these guys look up to me. I try to mentor them and help them out the best way that I can.”
Hayes had some strong role models to help him develop into the athlete and leader that he is now.
One was his older brother Jacquari, a standout wide receiver for the Warriors who graduated in 2017 and still has a big influence on Hayes as a student at George Mason University.
“I always looked up to Jacquari,” Hayes said. “I honestly think he was one of the better wide receivers in the area. He’ll watch some of my highlights and go, ‘Hey, you need to do this better, do that better.’ He’s definitely a big role model in my football life, and my life as well.”
As a first-year varsity member as a sophomore, Hayes got the chance to study current Division I athlete Aaron Banks, who has made eight tackles (one for loss) in two games as a redshirt freshman reserve free safety at the University of Richmond. Banks was an all-state wide receiver and defensive back at Sherando.
“Watching his game, I learned how to use my speed,” Hayes said. “That was definitely a key component in how I play now.”
Hayes’ 40-yard dash time is 4.46 seconds, and his quickness and his remarkable field vision cause opponents fits on both sides of the ball.
In the second game last year against Jefferson (W.Va.), Hayes had a 31-yard interception return to the Cougar 13 to set up a touchdown.
Hayes also had a 50-yard interception return for TD on the third play from scrimmage to jumpstart a 56-14 win over Loudoun Valley in the third game. On the second play from scrimmage in the seventh game against Kettle Run — which amounted to being the Class 4 Northwestern District championship game — Hayes had an interception at the Cougars’ 26. That set up the first touchdown in an eventual 27-14 win.
“He’s a very instinctual player,” said Hall of Hayes, who has six tackles and a team-high three pass breakups this season. “We play him at free safety for a reason, because he can cover ground and he can erase a lot of things that are in the secondary. I think he has good anticipatory skills, but he has great closing speed.”
On offense, Hayes had a 21-yard touchdown reception in the third game against Broadway last year after catching a pass in the flat and making a move at the line of scrimmage.
Hayes (five catches for 133 yards and three TDs) has continued that type of offensive play this year.
He had two touchdown catches against James Wood for 45 yards and 30 yards, both of which he caught either around or behind the line of scrimmage. He knifed through a hole up the middle on a screen play and went in untouched on the 45-yarder, and simply outran the defense after catching a short pass to the left and running toward the sideline on his 30-yarder.
“I think that works more with my field vision and my speed,” said Hayes of the short, quick passes. “That’s definitely key for me to see spaces and just attack with all the speed that I do have.”
“I think he’s more explosive this year than he was last year,” Hall said. “He understands what his gifts are as an athlete from an offensive skill perspective.
“He does a lot less dancing, a lot more just put your foot in the ground and puncture the defense, which is key for him.”
Hayes — who also has returned four punts for 37 yards (9.3 average) this year — credits Hall for helping him become stronger and more explosive in the weight room. From the start of his junior year to this year, Hayes has increased his bench press from 135 pounds to 190 and his squat from 225 to 315. Hayes also went to camps at James Madison, Richmond and Wofford this summer to test himself.
Hayes hopes the work he’s put in leads to all-region and all-state honors for himself, and another special season for the Warriors. Sherando is next in action on Friday when it hosts Martinsburg (W.Va.) at 7 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium.
“We’re just going fly around this year and be the same traditional Sherando football team,” said Hayes before the season opener. “And I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team do that.”