STEPHENS CITY — In both his junior and senior years, Sherando senior Payne Bauer was named Class 4 first team all-state, and the Defensive Player of the Year for Region 4C (co-honors), the Class 4 Northwestern District, and The Winchester Star.
Those are certainly all achievements to treasure. But Bauer will never forget what life was like before those accolades.
During their football careers at Sherando, Bauer and teammates Jabril Hayes and Darius Lane never lost sight of the value of a strong work ethic, and that’s why they found themselves being cheered on by several dozen people in the Sherando auditorium on Wednesday.
Bauer (linebacker, James Madison University), Hayes (defensive back, University of Richmond) and Lane (running back, Valparaiso University) each signed a national letter of intent to continue their football careers on scholarship at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision level on Wednesday.
As Sherando coach Bill Hall pointed out to the audience looking on at the trio of players sitting at a table on stage, “there’s a lot of years of investment to get to that seat right there.”
Bauer joined the Sherando football program as a sophomore, and he knew that year that the moment he experienced Wednesday was something he dearly wanted.
“I can remember me and Jabril, we’d always talk about this moment,” Bauer said after Wednesday’s ceremony. “We’d back each other up and say, ‘Our time is coming.’ It’s crazy to say that time is now.”
While only a small fraction of high school athletes go on to play in college, some of the credentials that Hall listed to the crowd showed why the college scholarships awarded to the Sherando trio make perfect sense. Hall said they each possess GPA’s between 3.8 and 4.1, all run 40-yard dash times between 4.4 and 4.6 seconds, were each committed to the weight room and were all team captains this year.
“I think those four things combined make them really special,” said Hall, who also noted that they each have strong family and community support. “I’m excited for those guys.”
Naturally, each is enthusiastic about their future.
Bauer is headed to one of the top programs in FCS on a full scholarship. JMU advanced to its third national championship game in four seasons this year. The Dukes went 14-2 overall and 8-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Their only FCS loss was to North Dakota State in the championship game.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Bauer went to JMU’S spring practice with Hayes, but it was over the summer when he went to a camp at JMU that he truly got the sense that it could be the school for him.
“I was in a zone,” Bauer said. “I felt I had a good grasp of what I was supposed to be doing at the camp. And I just felt like it was home right away.”
Bauer said he’s developed a strong rapport with defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman and linebackers coach/co-defensive coordinator Bryant Haines over the past several months.
“It wasn’t all about football,” Bauer said. “They’d ask what was going on in my life. That made me feel really good. They cared about me. That was important.”
The idea of playing for a winning program like JMU — and playing in the Dukes’ 4-2-5 scheme — were also important factors for Bauer in picking the Dukes.
“I love [the 4-2-5] defense,” said Bauer, who had 93 tackles (41 for loss), and 12 sacks as a senior. “It’s kind of a selfish defense for a linebacker because the linemen in front of you are going to block so you can go free, and I like going free and making plays.”
Alabama A&M, Duquesne, Georgetown, New Hampshire, St. Francis and VMI all offered scholarships to Bauer before JMU offered one on Bauer’s official visit this past weekend. Bauer announced his commitment on Tuesday.
“I wasn’t sure where I was going to go [before JMU offered],” said Bauer, who plans on majoring in business. “I’m happy that they came through.
‘It’s a football school and a football town. I’m happy I’m going someplace that has a winning tradition.”
Hayes will attend JMU’s CAA rival Richmond on a full scholarship.
Hayes came into the school year with scholarship offers from New Hampshire, St. Francis and VMI. Hayes has long been intrigued by Richmond though.
Richmond defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite, a Handley graduate, has shown a strong interest in the Winchester area since arriving in 2017. After that season he brought former Warriors defensive back Aaron Banks aboard, which first opened the lines of communication to Hayes. Hayes then went to Richmond’s camp in the summer of 2018, and the relationship grew.
“Coach Braithwaite has always kept it honest with me,” said Hayes, which added that Richmond had been at the top of his list for a long time. “That’s what you really look for a lot in these coaches. A lot of coaches can lead guys on, and it can just be pop and fizzle and nothing will come to fruition. For him to constantly be in contact with me, if not once a week, but at least once a month, was really important to me and made me feel really good about my abilities on the field.”
Richmond made the scholarship offer to him on Jan. 19, and a week later Hayes made his commitment after visiting the campus Jan. 26.
After talking to the players and coaches, “I really felt like it was home,” said Hayes, who’s looking forward to reuniting with Banks and teaming up with former Millbrook stars Isaac Brown and Savon Smith, who are both part of the Spiders’ receiving corps. The Spiders went 5-7 (4-4 CAA) last year.
Hayes said he’ll actually be making the transition to cornerback, a position he has not played since he was a freshman on the JV team. (Hayes was a first team All-Region 4C selection in his final year as a safety, recording 62 tackles, five interceptions and nine pass breakups.)
“I feel like I’m versatile, where I can play any position I need to on the field,” said Hayes, who will major in marketing. “It will be just like playing safety. I’ll use the same techniques. There will be a couple tweaks here and there.”
Hayes, a 5-11, 160-pounder, said it meant a lot to share Wednesday’s moment with Bauer and Lane. Hayes and Lane became friends with Bauer in high school, but Hayes and Lane go way back.
“I’ve known Darius since Little League, playing in Winchester,” Hayes said. “I always knew he was a guy we’d have to watch out for, playing his teams. Just having that bond with him since we were younger is really important to me.
“The three of us invested into the program, and we’ve had conversations about how we want to do big things with football. For it to come to life, it’s words that can’t be explained. I’m grateful to share this moment with my teammates. We’re just going to do big things in college.”
While Bauer and Hayes had established themselves as high school stars heading into their senior year, Lane had to bide his time behind T.J. Washington at running back and didn’t have much on film to demonstrate his skills prior to 2019. Lane just had to hope someone saw his potential.
Valparaiso running backs coach Cory Colder, a graduate of nearby Briar Woods High School, saw enough through the NCSA recruiting website to invite him to the Crusaders’ summer camp in Indiana. Colder and the Crusaders (1-11, 1-7 Pioneer League last year) clearly liked what they saw.
And after Lane had a spectacular senior year, they eventually offered Lane a scholarship on Dec. 2. Lane was second in the area with 1,626 yards rushing (6.6 yards per carry) and 162 points, ran for 25 touchdowns, caught 24 passes for 278 yards and two scores, and was selected to the All-Region 4C first team.
Lane said schools like Fordham, VMI and Howard showed interest in him, but Valparaiso was the only one to offer a scholarship. Lane said thanks to his academic performance, he’s receiving a scholarship that will cover half his expenses. Lane visited the campus the weekend of Jan. 18, then announced his commitment on Jan. 22.
Lane said one of the things that sold him on Valparaiso was how attentive they were to his interests when he visited, and the manner in which they tried to connect with him.
“You got to actually go see where you’d be studying,” Lane said. “I want to be a civil engineer, so they took me to an engineering program in the building, and they took me and showed me what I would be doing. They’re one of the top engineering schools in the country. Yes, I want to play D-I football, but I also want to make sure I get the proper education to pursue the career that I want.
“I got to connect with the players, we played basketball with the coaches, we went to a basketball game. They worked on building a bond and give you a taste of what that team is. It made me feel like I’m not that far from home, even though I am.”
Lane, a 5-10, 185-pounder, said the patience was the key to making Wednesday’s day possible.
“My dad told me to write, ‘My time will come,’ on an index card and put it on my door so I see it every day,” Lane said. “That’s something I live by. God finally gave me an opportunity and showed me my time is now.”
Lane and his teammates certainly worked hard to make everything they achieved happen.
“I think it’s a great lesson for life that those guys just stuck to the course,” Hall said. “They stayed through the process like we talked about and they just won every single day, and that usually wins out in the end, which it did for those guys and it has for our guys in the past. That’s what I’m proud about, is they stuck to it and they were rewarded.”