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Flames Senior Feature: B.J. Hayes
As LibertyFlames.com continues to offer coverage of Liberty's football team throughout its bye week, the web site will be providing a look at six of this year's senior players. Throughout the bye week, the web site will release a feature story written about six members of its 17-player graduating senior class.
Today's feature is about senior wide receiver B.J. Hayes. This story was the feature story for the Oct. 1 Flames Illustrated game day program (Kentucky Wesleyan game).
Hayes ranks third on Liberty's squad in 2011, having halted in 25 receptions for 277 yards and he is one of 10 Liberty receivers with a touchdown reception this season. Hayes' career breakout game came on Sept. 17, when the senior finished with nine catches for 158 yards against No. 13 James Madison.
Hayes is one of three active receivers on Liberty's roster with 1,000 career receiving yards (1,131 yards), as he is joined by All-America wide out Chris Summers (2,472 yards) and junior Pat Kelly (1,180 yards).
Inspired to be His Best
Everybody enjoys an inspirational story, especially when it involves overcoming an injury. Some of the favorites are fictional; some actually happened.
Roy Hobbs came to bat in the final scenes of The Natural. Blood seeped through his jersey because of a severe condition in his stomach. With lightning flashing in the sky, Hobbs crushed the pitch and sent the ball into the lights above the right field roof for the game-winning home run.
Kirk Gibson is known for his one and only plate appearance for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 World Series against the Oakland As. Suffering from a stomach virus and having both legs injured, Gibson was not expected to play at all.
During Game One, however, with the Dodgers trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning and a runner on at first base, Gibson made a dramatic entrance as a pinch hitter. Facing a full count, he smacked Dennis Eckersley's pitch over the right field fence to win the game and claim one of the most dramatic sports plays in World Series history.
Rocky fought Apollo Creed, after his eye is sliced open in order to see through the swelling. Ronnie Lott, former San Francisco 49ers free safety, has the top of his finger amputated in order not to miss a game.
Basketball Hall of Famer Willis Reed overcame a severe thigh muscle injury and walked on the court at Madison Square Garden, inspiring the Knicks to defeat the Lakers and claim the 1970 NBA title.
Such inspirational dramatics have even happened within the last few weeks with Tony Romo battling broken ribs and a punctured lung, leading the Dallas Cowboys in a comeback victory over San Francisco.
Although it might not be as nationally iconic as the previously mentioned tales, B.J. Hayes has his own inspirational story that hits much closer to home.
During Liberty's 2011 home opener against Robert Morris, the senior dislocated a bone in his hand, which actually broke the skin and popped out of his glove.
"I was back to catch a punt, and I called for a fair catch," he said. "The ball landed on my finger. I heard a pop, but I didn't really think about it. Then I looked at my finger, and I was shocked to see what happened."
For Liberty Assistant AD for Sports Medicine Chris Casola, the injury was one of the more unique he has seen during his decade of carrying for Liberty student-athletes.
"B.J.'s injury was unique in how it presented itself. To have the bone dislocate, break the skin, and come out of his glove without breaking the bone is unusual," stated Casola. "Our orthopedic surgeon, Dr. John Prayhinski did a great job of treating the injury, Saturday and with the surgery Sunday morning."
"That B.J. was able to have surgery on Sunday, practice Wednesday and have the game he did on Saturday against James Madison is just a testament to him and work his ethic."
After surgery the following day, Hayes was expected to be out for a couple of weeks, lessening Liberty's stout receiving corps and taking away the Flames' top return specialist.
"Since this was my senior year, I decided that I have to play," said Hayes. "It was a serious injury, but it wasn't going to keep me from playing. I missed the first two days of practice, but on Wednesday they gave me a special glove. I was catching balls, and it felt pretty good."
Hayes' hand definitely felt good enough for him to record a career performance against nationally ranked James Madison on Sept. 17. He collected nine receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown. He caught every pass thrown his way.
"The trainers did a really good job of padding my hand," he said. "I just really focused when the ball was coming to me. I didn't feel any pain when I caught it. I guess it was just an adrenaline rush."
The Flames did not pull off the victory against the Dukes, but that doesn't mean Hayes' inspiring story is over. There are plenty of games left on the season and many goals still to achieve.
"It's a whole new ballgame when we start playing teams in the Big South," he said. "Whoever wins the conference title automatically goes to the playoffs. We have to be focused every week and take every game seriously."
A Big South preseason all-conference selection as a punt returner, Hayes also has made a personal goal to score a touchdown on special teams. Last season, he led the team with his 10.2 yards per punt return average, collecting two 40-plus yard punt returns.
"I really worked hard every day at catching punts, last year," he said. "I made it my focus to really excel at returning punts."
Hayes also had a breakout year as a wide receiver in 2010 with 546 receiving yards. Prior to last season, he only recorded 308 receiving yards total in his first two years at Liberty.
Recruited as a running back, Hayes has slowly made the transition to wide receiver, and now he is a regular starter at the position. He credits his teammates for helping him make the change and collect second-team all-conference honors last season.
"I have been learning a lot from Chris (Summers) and Mike (Brown)," he said. "They helped me with the different routes and how to adjust on the routes."
As a fifth-year senior, Hayes is considered by the Liberty coaching staff as one of the better examples of someone who embodies the Whole Person Development mission statement of the team, which involves a student-athlete being the best they can be athletically, academically, socially and spiritually.
"As a person, I've grown closer to God since I have been at Liberty, "he said. "This has been a great learning experience for me. The coaching staff has helped me improve every year. They have shown a lot of confidence in me, more than I realize, since they moved me to wide receiver, and this inspires me to do the best that I can."
The season is far from over. Even in today's game, one may never know what inspiration may come.
Chris Doyle is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics