College Sports

NFL vet devoted to the High Point community

There were a few givens at the Hayes Parlor of Tonsorial Arts beyond the quality of barber services Robert Hayes Senior provided for 58 years. If the television was on, it was tuned to a Western. If the radio was on, gospel music flooded the shop on East Washington Drive in High Point. And, when the tip jar was full, Hayes took the money and donated it to a nearby urban ministry serving the homeless.

“He just gave it all back to the community,” said his son, Robert Hayes Jr. “He’s a giving man, he’s always been that way.”

That example has been embraced by grandson William Hayes, an 8-year NFL veteran with the St. Louis Rams. Hayes is so devoted to community service in High Point and St. Louis, the team nominated him for the league’s 2014 Walter Peyton Man of the Year award for volunteer and charity work. The ultimate winner was Thomas Davis of the Carolina Panthers.

Hayes speaks at schools in High Point and St. Louis, buys tickets for members of the public who can’t afford to attend Rams games, hosts football camps in High Point, visits homeless shelters, helps to find and furnish homes for needy families.

He’s enlisted others on the Rams defensive line – including right end and former Tar Heel Robert Quinn – to join him in handing out turkeys for Thanksgiving, delivering food to the homebound and donating $1,000 for every sack in a “Sack Homelessness” effort. Hayes led his line-mates in hosting a paintball fundraiser so low-income families could buy school supplies for their children. The defensive linemen treated 40 St. Louis kids from Big Brothers Big Sisters to a pizza party and a shopping spree for Christmas.

“We do a lot of stuff together as a team,” said Hayes, 30, exceeded in age only by Chris Long among the Rams.

“Right Track”

He and Long, a Virginia grad, spent an entire day this past spring on the St. Louis streets to better appreciate the experience of being homeless. They wound up with little to eat and slept in a boxcar. “It was the worst night I’ve ever had in my life for sure,” Hayes said in a promo for a segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “My body hurts so bad right now.”

Hayes also reached beyond familiar paths and, with his father, forged and funded a charitable initiative tailored to conditions he saw growing up in High Point. Right Track is an innovative, much-admired program that creates individualized plans for first-time offenders in his hometown. Most have not committed violent crimes and face less than a year of jail time.

In a little more than three years of existence, Right Track has served in excess of 100 clients, some whom are well into their 40s. There is little recidivism among program graduates. The approach has sparked interest from legal communities in counties beyond Guilford.

John Nieman supervises the Guilford County public defender’s office in High Point under the overall direction of Fred Lind, the former Duke basketball player. He calls Right Track “extremely helpful” as well as “positive and still tough.”

Conventional programs for first-time offenders are usually static: take a class or complete a certain number of hours of community service, pay a fee, keep a journal and your obligations are complete. Offenders with the same violation follow the same regimen. Time and resources are scarce for addressing root causes such as abuse at home, mental illness, or difficulties at school. That compromises the prospects for successfully avoiding recurrences of violations.

Right Track “is more client-centered,” said Nieman, who also teaches paralegal studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. “They figure out what’s going on with a particular person and they structure a program to help that person, to help that person back on track, to get that person through whatever they’re going through.”

Changing behavior

Gretta Bush, who helps Hayes direct Right Track, says the goal is to work closely with clients to change behavior. She says offenders need to grasp that “you don’t have to be a product of your environment.” Judges, public defenders and the district attorney’s office make referrals “but it’s definitely the individual’s choice to be successful or not in the program.”

Right Track operates under the umbrella of another nonprofit, the High Point Community Against Violence (HPCAV), which offers proactive intervention in situations where parents, teachers, school resource officers or others perceive discipline issues with young people that could lead to trouble. A youngster doesn’t have to run afoul of the law to get help.

Both efforts are aimed at interrupting what Bush, president of HPCAV, describes as “the cradle to prison pipeline.” Incarceration is a more expensive option – in dollars and angst – than intervening before violations are committed, as well as before low-level offenses such as shoplifting or vandalism lead to major crimes.

Timely personal reform is precisely what Hayes, his father and other family members involved with Right Track seek to foster. “Coming up, I had a lot of friends make mistakes,” says William Hayes. “A lot of times when that happens, they don’t get that second chance.”

Hayes was not one to get into trouble despite being raised in modest circumstances. “I didn’t have much at all,” he said. “My mom and dad always made sure we had a roof and food every night, but growing up without isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and it makes you appreciate everything.”

From the heart

During his years at High Point Andrews High School, the 6-foot 3-inch Hayes wrestled at 185 pounds. His slender physique led to a certain amount of teasing, but playing defensive end, linebacker and tight end he proved a key component on a 2003 state 2A football championship squad. After graduation he landed at Winston-Salem State, where he won All-American honors in 2007 while the school was briefly in the Football Championship Subdivision.

A fourth-round draft pick by Tennessee in 2008, Hayes now weighs 278 pounds and is among the longest-serving of the 70-odd players from North Carolina colleges and universities performing in the NFL. He joined the Rams in 2012, the same season former Titans coach Jeff Fisher took over in St. Louis.

Hayes currently backs up Long at left end on one of the league’s better defensive lines. In St. Louis’ 2015 opener, an overtime victory against Seattle, Long played 54 snaps, Hayes 33. Through the first week of this season Hayes, who wears number 95, had appeared in 95 career games, recording 24 sacks and 221 tackles.

In some respects his complementary playing status matches his approach to good works off the field. William Hayes simply avoids the limelight when he can. ”He always stands behind you,” said Bush, who has known Hayes for most of his life. Even his father learns of some charitable acts through casual comments by others.

“He does it from his heart without even telling me. He’s not bragging about it,” Robert Hayes Jr. said. “I don’t know all of what he does. He doesn’t tell his dad, like, ‘Hey, dad, I just went down to the homeless shelter and donated a thousand turkeys to feed a thousand families.’ 

How refreshing – humility in the age of selfies.