PJ Hayes spent the majority of this season on the sideline, but the Walpole High senior was determined to make a major contribution in his final game, the Thansgiving Day matchup against Weymouth.
Hayes (inset) had missed the first eight games after suffering a stress fracture playing beach volleyball this past summer. The injury was not confirmed until late August when the pain motivated Hayes to go for an MRI.
Not being able to suit up was devastating for Hayes, who will not play football in college.
“It was terrible, actually, because it’s the last season playing football in my life,” said Hayes.
Still an important asset, Hayes attended every practice and game, cheering on and supporting his teammates. He made frequent visits to the chiropractor in hopes he’d be able to return to the field.
After a few attempts at returning to practice during the midseason, he found the pain too much to bear.
“You got to feel for the kid because he’s a very tough kid, and he tried a few times to get back on the field, and you could tell his back was really bothering him,” said senior captain Mike Rando .
Prior to the Rebels’ Nov. 2 game against Dedham, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound defensive back took reps at practice and felt significantly less pain. Though he wasn’t at 100 percent in the Rebels’ 47-0 victory, it prepared him for the season’s final foes, Natick and Weymouth. After watching Hayes’s solid work against Natick, Walpole coach Barry Greener felt he was ready for a more challenging assignment: covering Ozzy Colarusso, Weymouth’s talented senior whiz.
“I gave him the toughest assignment on the field,” said Greener. “Ozzy Colarusso, man to man, and Colarusso is a stud. He caught some balls, but nothing long.” His coverage was consistently strong, preventing Colarusso from scoring.
“Not only did he cover well,” said Greener, “he tackled well. . . . If Ozzy catches a 7-yard hitch you want to limit it to 7 yards, not 10, not 20, not 30.’’
But he did not limit his contributions to defense in Walpole’s 48-21 victory.
After quarterback David Harrison gave Weymouth a 21-13 lead with a 17-yard run in the fourth quarter, the Rebels needed to respond.
Hayes hauled in the ensuing kickoff and darted toward the Weymouth sideline. Running full speed ahead, and out of the reach of every defender, the defending state indoor champion in the 55-yard dash ripped off a game-changing 84-yard sprint to the end zone, closing the gap to 21-19.
His runback trigged a 35-point fourth quarter for the Rebels.
“He’s a really fast kid,” said Rando. “He’s like the fastest kid in the state. He made awesome plays on defense, and that punt return really brought us back.”
Greener calls Hayes the fastest player to ever play at Walpole. Upon the urging of many people, he joined the indoor track team last year at midseason and placed first in his first 55-yard dash.
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” said Greener. “It was sad to see him on the sidelines for the first eight games. I’m sure he felt even worse than we did. It was great to get him back. We got him back for Natick and we got him back for Weymouth. If he wasn’t playing Thursday, I just don’t think we could have beat Weymouth. I think he was the difference. He kept us in the game.”
Hayes plans on running track in college, so Thanksgiving may very well have been his farewell to the gridiron. He started playing Pop Warner at age 8, so his big performance was a bittersweet ending.
“It felt good because it’s been a long journey just trying to get back,” said Hayes. “I felt like I deserved it because all that waiting and watching kind of aggravated me. My last game of my whole life, getting a touchdown, it was pretty good.”
Hayes was not the only player to leave it all on the field on Thanksgiving morning. . . .
Mike McMillan gives Oliver Ames a boost
Oliver Ames senior Mike McMillan was on the sideline, his left arm in a sling, as the Tigers closed out a 35-7 victory over playoff-bound Sharon.
The victory took the edge off his pain after he sprained his left shoulder joint as he attempted to make a catch in the third quarter. His 30-yard touchdown reception at the end of the first half, however, had given OA a commanding 21-7 cushion.
With time on the clock winding down, quarterback Nick Cidado heaved a pass toward the end zone. The ball caromed off a defender’s helmet to OA receiver Greg Cummings, who tipped it to McMillan for the stunning score.
“It felt good to help the team out somehow before I got injured,” said McMillan.
Also the captain of the baseball team, McMillan says the injury will not affect the spring season because his right arm, with which he throws, was not injured.
The Tigers (6-5) ended with a winning season and a memorable win over 8-3 Sharon.