By Toni Garrard Clay/
AISD Communications Coordinator
Athens High School senior Garrett Hayes makes an impression wherever he goes. Sure there’s his size (6-5 and 295 pounds), and there’s his considerable prowess on the football field (more than 30 NCAA Division-1 offers). But while all that is remarkable, his character seems to garner just as much attention among those who know him.
“I have never coached a kid that has his size and strength and moves as quickly as he does,” said new AHS Head Football Coach Zac Harrell. “The most impressive thing about Garrett, however, is his character and ability to put the team first in all situations.”
Hayes is, to use the term no young adult is entirely comfortable with, a “good kid.” That makes it even easier to celebrate his athletic accomplishments thus far — accomplishments such as being a nationally ranked four-star recruit, and his inclusion in the upcoming All-American Bowl.
NBC Sports recently acquired broadcasting rights to the event that organizers call “the nation’s premier high school football game.” Hayes will suit up for the All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The 2019 game drew an audience of about 3 million viewers, making it the most-watched high school sporting event in the country.
Hayes went to the All-American combine last year. Though he didn’t play, he participated in the drills and stayed for the game. While he certainly hoped for a chance to take the field in 2020, he says he didn’t view it as a given.
“I don’t really ‘expect’ things,” he said. “I just left it open and didn’t think of it too much. So when I got the call, I was super excited about it. It’s all God-given. I know that.”
Hayes’ athletic prowess is even more remarkable in light of the struggles he experienced with motor skills as a young boy.
“When I was younger, I couldn’t walk that well,” he said matter-of-factly. “I walked with my arms to my side, and I had to go to different therapies for that. … So it was a proud moment for me when I got that call. It’s not every day you go from [struggling to walk] to being one of the top recruits in the country.”
“It’s obvious from the moment Garrett steps on the field that he’s a special player,” said longtime area sportswriter Michael Hannigan. “He has a unique combination of size, strength and athleticism that you don’t see often. And on top of that, he’s just a really, really good kid, the kind you want on your team. He makes everyone around him better by being himself.”
Hayes plays offensive tackle and will be moving from his previous spot at right tackle to left in order to protect the quarterback’s blind side.
“For as well known as Garrett’s name is, his value to our team is very underrated,” said senior QB Chase Friedrich. “You won’t hear his name called when we score a touchdown or get a first down, but what he contributes to the team is more than he gets credit for. Garrett is a great leader on and off the field.”
Hayes says the new coaching staff at AHS has brought a lot of energy and excitement to the program and predicts a good season. “It’s our choice in the end as to how much we’ll commit,” he said, “but they’re making the choice easy.”
With dozens of offers to play ball at D-1 schools, Hayes has yet to commit. While he does plan to play college football, when asked what he’s looking for, his first response is “a good aeronautics program.”
“I want to be a pilot,” said Hayes, who has loved all things aeronautical since he first played with toy airplanes. “I can’t do commercial [due to size restrictions]. I can do cargo. … I want to try to get a helicopter license as well.”
And does he think about a future in the NFL? “If I get the opportunity … it would be a blessing. But if I don’t get that, I’ll be spending my life hopefully with the woman I love and my family. That’s more important to me than playing the game.”