It’s been a long road for former Mountain Pointe standout defensive tackle Shomari Hayes.
At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Hayes was a force at Mountain Pointe, spending three years at the varsity level while playing for former Pride coach Norris Vaughan. Hayes finished his career with 192 total tackles and 10 sacks. He also forced five fumbles and recovered two.
He played a vital role in Mountain Pointe’s two consecutive trips to the state championship game in 2015 and 2016, as well as the semifinals appearance in 2017. His accolades quickly caught the eyes of college coaches, including former Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier, who was hired last December to take over the University of Louisiana at Lafayette program.
In March, Napier offered Hayes a scholarship.
“He followed me from his time at ASU,” Hayes said. “He was loyal to me and told me they would take care of me there. I had faith in him to help me get to the next level.”
Hayes’ future was looking bright, but his grades limited his ability to sign with other seniors in his class.
“Everyone told me to focus on the grades and I always had to take summer school to catch up,” Hayes said. “It didn’t click until my junior year when I started receiving letters from colleges. That hurt me.”
Hayes graduated from Mountain Pointe last May with a 2.25 GPA, short of the required 2.3 to become eligible in the NCAA. He reluctantly watched as seniors from his class went off to pursue their dreams of playing in college, while he proceeded to take online courses to boost his GPA.
But Hayes’ time taking the classes was worth it in the end, as his GPA is now high enough to meet the requirement. But he was presented with another challenge during that time, one that limited his physical ability on the field.
“I started working out like crazy and I had a pain in my left shoulder,” Hayes said. “I thought nothing of it but I went to get an MRI and they said I had a torn labrum.”
Through his quest to raise his GPA and surgery, Hayes remained transparent with Napier and the Louisiana staff. In return, they kept their faith in Hayes, never shifting course in their efforts to have him playing for them in 2019.
But as Hayes’ grades improved, other schools started calling, including the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The Rebels’ coaching staff brought Hayes in for an official visit last week. Hayes was impressed.
“They have amazing facilities and they look like they’re going to be great,” Hayes said. “They told me I would make an immediate impact. It was closer to home so my parents could come out there. It was a tough decision.”
But even though he could see himself playing for UNLV, he kept thinking about Louisiana.
When the early signing period for high school athletes began on Dec. 19, Hayes made his commitment to the Ragin’ Cajuns official as he signed his National Letter of Intent.
“I feel stress-free,” Hayes said. “I know my mission isn’t over and I need to continue to push to the next level. To be able to continue my education and play football, it’s a big accomplishment.”
Hayes will begin classes at Louisiana on Jan. 16 and will work with the football team to continue rehabbing his shoulder. But with his strength and mobility improving every day, he is confident he will be ready to go in summer camp.
“I’m going to slowly come back and then be ready to go,” Hayes said. “I’m ready to get back in the action. We open against Mississippi State in the (Mercedes-Benz Superdome). I’m going to be on the field for that.”
Hayes’ journey is not uncommon among some prep athletes all across the nation, he just remained quiet about his. But now that he has made his dream of playing at the Division I level come true, he hopes his story can have a positive effect on others to stay focused in the classroom.
“This is where people would be if they took my route,” Hayes said. “You can still make it, but you have to get yourself right in the classroom. I know that now, but at the time I got caught up in everything else in high school.
“You can’t do that. You have to stay focused.”