Former Enterprise star football player Rashad Hayes returned to EHS on Friday, Nov. 15, to speak in front of dozens of students and share his story, as well as bring lessons that could help those students in their own lives. It became much more.
Hayes had a tough childhood at times – even finding himself and his mother homeless at one point – but Enterprise will always be his home.
“This is home,” Hayes flatly said. “A lot of my pain was here in Enterprise. This is the one place I can say everyone as a community took me in and I was really their baby.
“I have a lot of mommas in Enterprise, honestly. So many people took me and called me their son. Color didn’t mean anything in Enterprise.”
Hayes said that despite growing up on Enterprise’s Bell Street, he also spent much of his time at the country club and taking part in many things that children with his background may have not had the opportunity to do and see.
“I got exposed to so much,” he said. “All of that motivated me to come back and to give back to my community.”
After Hayes’ mother moved to Georgia, his biological father and step-mother moved back to Enterprise and Hayes began living with them. It was his father that steered him to football and football is where he found an escape.
“Knowing that in football I could hit someone and not get into trouble, that was my way of letting the anger that I had built up out,” he said. “I realized at a young age that I was bottling stuff up. I didn’t think I had people to talk to and honestly I didn’t really know that I could talk about those things.
“With football – and playing safety – the first time I hit someone it was like, ‘Whoa, what is this,’ and I fell in love with the game.”
Hayes pointed to a hit he made in practice – rather than any big plays in games – as a memory that sticks out more than any other in his time at EHS.
“My junior year Rhett (Harrelson) tossed a pass to Clark (Quisenberry) across the middle and I just blew him up,” Hayes said as a smile crept across his face. “That was probably the best hit I ever made and what Clark – or anyone else – didn’t understand is that when I made that hit I was going through a lot of things at that time and I felt like I was going to make sure everyone felt my thing.”
After spending much of his high school career as a role player on the defensive side of the ball, Hayes blossomed as a senior in 2012. He registered 98 total tackles with an interception and two tackles-for-loss as he earned a spot on The Southeast Sun Elite 11 team along with being voted team captain.
His play on the field – and grades – also earned him a football scholarship to South Carolina’s Benedict College, but it didn’t take Hayes long to realize college football was not for him.
“When I got to college I saw the business aspect of the game and that coaches will tell you anything to get you to commit,” Hayes continued. “After I committed in February, by May the coach that recruited me got fired and when I got there I saw it was just all business and it just wasn’t for me.”
Hayes transferred back to his home state to the University of Alabama-Birmingham and earned his bachelor’s degree in Community Health and Human Services. Hayes began dong social work and fell in love with it leading to a master’s degree in Social Work.
“Everything that I countered (in my life) pushed me into it,” Hayes said. “Knowing that there is a reason for why we do everything that we do and breaking it down and understanding the different theories, I understand why people react to certain things the way they do.”
During his school career at UAB, Hayes became ill and was eventually diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma and also began to struggle financially – because of doctor’s bills – and wound up homeless again.
Now, Hayes is a therapist at Living World Outpatient Center in Birmingham.
“That place is amazing,” he said. “We deal with people that don’t have insurance, so you’re dealing with poverty, mental illness and substance abuse, too.
“I get to deal with people that others don’t want to. Having this job has really opened my eyes and it’s also humbled me because I see flashbacks of my own life with some of our clients.”
In addition to his therapy work, Hayes also spends time as a public speaker at high schools around the state, which is what brought him back home to Enterprise.
EHS psychology teacher Suzanne Taylor – who taught Hayes at EHS – reached out to Hayes and asked him to come and speak to her students.
“This wasn’t about money for me,” Hayes said of speaking at EHS. “I told Mrs. Taylor I’m not charging her. I wanted to give back and hopefully help someone in the process.”
After Hayes agreed to come speak to her class, Taylor reached out to other EHS teachers that had taught Hayes and they all wanted to bring their classes, as well. In total, more than 100 EHS students filed into the EHS Performance Arts Center to hear him speak.
When Hayes speaks he not only shares his story but also ties it into a message about overcoming adversity, persevering through troubling times and preparation to help students get through high school.
Hayes pointed to this season’s Enterprise football team as an example of overcoming adversity and persevering after starting the season 2-5 and eventually finding themselves in the playoffs.
Hayes also opens up his event to the students to allow them to ask questions or say anything they want to him, and that’s where things took a bit of a turn.
After a few basic questions aimed at Hayes, a few students began to open up to him – and to the room – about struggling with illnesses, bullying and even self harm.
“I didn’t expect that to happen at all,” Hayes said. “I was kind of nervous because I get to go home after this and those kids have to come back here each day and face those same students that they have issues with.
“For them to make themselves vulnerable like that made me feel like I made them feel safe and that’s my goal. That’s why I put my social media up on the screen, though, so people can message me privately. It took a lot of courage for those kids to get up in front of everyone and speak about the things they’re going through.”
A number of students got emotional when speaking to Hayes and that touched the former Wildcat.
“To see kids react and to hug me and cry in my arms, meant a lot to me,” he said. “They didn’t know me but they trusted me. It makes me want to keep going.
“When times get hard for me I can have these memories and know that this is what I need to keep doing.”
Hayes said that he wants people to know that it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to reach out to talk to someone.
“I try and make it look like I’m Superman but there are times I have to cry, too,” Hayes said. “I’m not going to lie and tell you it didn’t hurt. I want people to know it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to talk to someone. Bottling it all up just makes you eventually explode.”
As a former athlete himself, Hayes said that he wished that all kids would play sports as it could help them in the way that it helped him.
“If I had a choice I would make every kid that was in this room play sports,” he flatly said. “You learn so many lessons playing sports, especially here at EHS.”
Hayes also had a message to the current athletes at EHS; cherish every moment you play.
“The best thing I could say is to cherish every moment whether it’s training or playing or taking off your pads or your gym shorts every day,” he said. “Those are the moments that are going to prepare you for life.”
Hayes said that when he shows up to work 15 minutes early every day that can be traced right back to football.
“I didn’t realize at first that I was still operating out of a football mindset,” he said. “I had a coach, (Albert) Weeden, who used to always tell me, ‘If you’re on time you’re late’ and that has stuck with me.”
Hayes and many of his siblings have been star athletes at EHS. Tre’Von McNeal was a star basketball and football player at EHS that went on to play football at Delta State and then basketball at Enterprise State Community College. Ja’Juan Hayes was an all-state player at EHS and now plays at ESCC, as well. Rashad Hayes believes that the youngest of the brothers – Quentin – may end up being the best athlete of them all.
“Quentin will be a one of a kind athlete,” Rashad Hayes said. “He will be someone that can be president of the SGA and turn around be the No. 1 draft pick in either the NBA or NFL. He can be anything he wants to be.
“I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother. I’m saying that because he has the passion and the tools and the drive to do it.”
Rashad Hayes also said his brother is part of what keeps him going, as well.
“He’s one of the reasons I keep going, too,” Rashad Hayes said. “I have to keep going because I know he’s watching every move I make. He’s the youngest, so I know he’s going to be watching.”
Rashad Hayes can be reached at @sculptwithshad on Instagram or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.