When a football player reaches an elite level, there’s a degree of separation that’s obvious to the player and opponents.
You could say it’s like going from a black-and-white monitor to a high-definition screen with brilliant color. West Feliciana coach Robb Odom offers a different analogy when asked about Parkview Baptist quarterback Reggie Hayes Jr.
“You can look at him (Hayes) and see it,” Odom said. “Everything on the field is in slow motion, and he’s the one going full speed. His physical ability is part of that, but it’s also about his maturity and knowledge. He’s confident, and he knows how to run that system.”
Hayes is a three-year starter who’s had plenty of superlatives heaped on him in the past. Those who questioned whether the 5-foot-7½ Hayes had saved his best for last got their answer last week.
Orchestrating the option to near perfection, Hayes accounted for 255 total yards, including 168 rushing yards in the Eagles’ 41-28 victory over rival University High in the Division II semifinals.
Now there’s one final challenge. Hayes and the fourth-seeded Eagles (9-3) meet No. 2 St. Thomas More (10-2) in the Division II title game set for 5 p.m. Friday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The game helps highlight a four-game schedule for the select schools weekend of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic.
Hayes didn’t complete a pass last week. But he returned kicks that set up scores, caught a pass on a fake punt that provided a key momentum shift, ran for a TD and put the Eagles in a position to succeed on offense.
But perfection? Hayes’ face breaks into a brief frown when asked about his play in the U-High game.
“It was a good game,” Hayes said. “But I didn’t like the number of negative yardage plays I had. It was too many. Any negative-yardage play is too much. My job is to put my team in position get to score.”
Hayes leads the Eagles with 1,321 rushing yards on 147 carries and 20 touchdowns. Running backs Kayin White (949 yards, 13 TDs) and Nelson Smith (732 yards, 4 TDs) are part of an attack that features several running backs. Hayes has passed for 418 yards and 6 TDs.
“The way we run the offense the carries are usually split between four guys,” PBS coach Jay Mayet said. “Last week, it worked out so that Reggie and Nelson got most of the carries.
“Reggie has grown up running the offense. … That’s true. But it’s the way he’s able to make reads and keep us in the best situation possible.
“There’s no ego involved. You have cases where a quarterback chooses to keep the ball and not give it to the other guys. That’s not Reggie. He wants to everybody involved and to gain yards on every play.”
West Feliciana’s Odom is an expert on the option because his Saints also run a variation of it. One quality Hayes has that is hard to simulate is speed. He turned some heads by running the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds at an LSU camp last summer.
Though his father, Reggie Sr., was a standout quarterback at Broadmoor who beat football powers like John Curtis and St. Thomas More before playing at the Louisiana-Lafayette, the younger Hayes has drawn comparisons with a another quarterback who became an NFL running back, former Catholic High star Warrick Dunn.
Army, Southern and Nicholls State have offered Hayes scholarships so far. He’s OK with being a return specialist or a slot receiver on the next level.
First, Hayes wants to take his team to a higher level, bettering last year’s runner-up finish.
“To help the team win, that’s always the goal,” Hayes said.