Notre Dame football coach Lewis Cook is quick to point out senior standout kickoff return specialist Hayden Bourgeois isn’t just dangerous with the ball in his hands.
“You better watch out,” Cook said. “If he doesn’t get the ball, he becomes a blocker and somebody’s going to get hit. He’s been valuable.”
Trying to determine Bourgeois’ true value for undefeated Notre Dame is similar to splitting hairs.
Bourgeois also serves as a vital run-support safety for one of the Acadiana area top defenses and when called upon, supplies the hammer the Pioneers utilize in short yardage and goal-line situations.
Moreover, Bourgeois’ impact on special teams has also been profound with three punt returns for touchdowns for No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0), which visits No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas (12-0) in a Division III select state semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday at SLU’s Strawberry Stadium in Hammond.
“I liked running the ball when I was younger,” Bourgeois said. “I was a running back. I had a good time running the ball. Anything with the game I love. I like special teams.”
Cook said Bourgeois’ team-first attitude has endeared him to his teammates and coaches. His talent and strict work ethic have catapulted the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder to another level this season, one worthy of scholarship offers from Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana.
“He’s a special player that does it the right way,” Cook said. “He gives you everything he’s got all the time. It’s nice having those kinds of guys on your team.”
With Notre Dame facing arguably its toughest test of the season last Friday, hosting two-time Division III state champion Calvary Baptist, Bourgeois promptly delivered in his usual across-the-board manner.
Bourgeois set up the first of his season-high three touchdown runs with a 44-yard punt return, later scoring from a yard out for a 7-0 lead.
Notre Dame didn’t look back while Bourgeois was just getting started.
Bourgeois, who had six carries for 14 yards and 2 TDs coming into the game, scored on three of the four times he touched the ball when Notre Dame opted for its ‘heavy’ package near the end zone.
Bourgeois also had a team-high 15 tackles for a defense that effectively put the clamps on Calvary’s high-powered offense, limiting the Cavaliers to minus-38 rushing yards.
“It was great, I loved it,” Bourgeois said of his team’s 28-7 victory over the reigning state champions. “It’s so fun when you’re playing good competition like that. They had some D1 (Division I) athletes on the other side of the ball and it put us to the test and we did our job.”
Bourgeois has been one the centerpieces in a Notre Dame defense that’s simply devoured its competition, allowing 4.1 points and 87.2 yards per game.
With last week’s playoff game representing the sixth time the Pios’ starters have played into the fourth quarter of a game this year, Bourgeois exceeded his total tackles of a year ago with 52 to go along with four tackles for losses, four pass breakups and an interception.
Bourgeois, who intercepted five passes as a junior, also has a 19.6-yard punt return average with thre TDs and 19.3 average on kickoff returns.
“Every summer I’ve worked a lot, but this summer I put a little more extra into it with it being my senior year,” said Bourgeois, who won the Class 3A state javelin title in the spring. “I didn’t have any set goals for tackles. I just want to take us to state and win it.”