William Hayes, a former Winston-Salem State star, is finding life after the NFL to his liking. Hayes, 34, has retired after 11 seasons and too many operations to count.
“No telling how many surgeries I had,” Hayes said on Monday.
Hayes, who is from High Point and graduated from High Point Andrews, was drafted out of WSSU in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans in the 2008 NFL Draft. He played four seasons with the Titans and then five seasons in St. Louis and Los Angeles for the Rams before playing the last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
During the 2018 season, Hayes tore a knee ligament while making a sack in the Dolphins’ third game. His season was over. It was rather fitting that Hayes’ final tackle in the NFL was a sack against David Carr of the Oakland Raiders.
Hayes was tempted to return for the 2019 season, but for the good of his health, he elected to retire.
“I thought about playing again and had offers,” he said. “But my back is really messed up, and I have to have surgery on it in December. I had to come to grips that it was over, but I’m OK with that because I gave it my all. And I think if you asked anybody, they would say I was always a good teammate and would do whatever it took out there.”
For his career, Hayes made 336 tackles with 37.5 sacks, one interception, seven forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
Hayes was the lone former WSSU player in the NFL. He’s also the most-recent player from WSSU drafted by an NFL team.
Hayes and his family, which include four children under the age of 8, have settled in High Point. He was at Winston-Salem State’s game on Saturday at Bowman Gray Stadium against Bowie State and was the honorary captain for the coin flip.
“Now that I’m back in High Point, I’ll have more time to see those guys play,” Hayes said about the current Rams team.
Both Hayes and Bill Hayes (no relation), the former legendary coach and athletics director of WSSU, were in the locker room before Saturday’s game at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Through the years William Hayes has done his part to give back to the university. He recently donated $2,000 to a campaign in athletics to help fund the entire program. Hayes is already in the Big House Gaines Hall of Fame at WSSU.
He says that it’s important because he knows that Kermit Blount, who was his coach at WSSU, gave him a chance. Blount will return to Bowman Gray Stadium on Saturday when the Johnson C. Smith Golden Bulls take on WSSU.
Hayes first signed with Barber-Scotia, but he ended up at WSSU after Barber-Scotia lost its accreditation. He redshirted in 2003, then played four seasons for the Rams. His final three seasons, however, were during the “lonesome years” from 2005 to 2007 when the program tried to transition to Division I and join the MEAC.
For Hayes’ final three seasons, the Rams toiled in obscurity and were not part of any conference.
When Hayes arrived at the Wake Forest Pro Day in the spring of 2008 he turned heads and wound up getting drafted. He was timed at 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which helped put him on the radar of NFL scouts.
“I knew I was a long shot to get to the league coming from a small school, but it worked out for me,” said Hayes, who is 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds.
Hayes, who is down about 15 pounds from his playing weight, doesn’t lift weights anymore and is content driving his children to their various events.
“They have karate on Tuesdays,” Hayes said, “and I’m also supposed to go to talk with the WSSU players.”
One of Hayes’ priorities now is opening a gym for children with special needs. He and his longtime girlfriend, Candace Humphrey, are planning to open the facility, which will be on North Main Street in High Point, in the next 90 days or so. The gym will be named for their oldest son, Quinton.
“It’s going to be called ‘Q’s Corner’ after our son Quinton, who has autism,” Hayes said. “It’s going to be for all kids with special needs and have all the first-class equipment so kids can come and enjoy a place to play.”
Hayes said the gym will carry on the dream he had thanks to the success in the NFL. Last season with the Dolphins he earned $4 million. Hayes’ mother (Vivian) and father (Robert) also still live in High Point.
“I’ve been blessed to play in the NFL for 11 years, and it allowed me to do so much for my family because we didn’t come from much,” Hayes said about growing up in High Point. “To able to provide and be comfortable financially is something I wasn’t thinking about in college at Winston-Salem State. Hell, all I had in college were flip flops and T-shirts so I’ve come a long way.”
Hayes said he’s excited about the chance to give back something to the High Point community. He did plenty for charitable organizations during his playing days, including helping the homeless.
One of his times in the spotlight during his NFL career came in an ESPN segment about the plight of the homeless. Hayes and Chris Long, a teammate and friend of Hayes on the St. Louis Rams, went undercover to see what it was like to be homeless. The film crew was there even as they stayed overnight, and it’s something Hayes will never forget.
“That was an eye opener for sure,” Hayes said about going undercover in St. Louis. “Chris and I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m glad we did it.”
Even though Hayes is at peace with his decision to retire from the NFL, he still misses it.
“The camaraderie with the guys is something you miss for sure,” Hayes said. “I don’t miss the surgeries and the pain. But when I reflect on the time I had in the NFL, there were some great times, and I would do everything the same way.”
Hayes, who was nicknamed “Big Play Hayes” at WSSU, said he remembers countless plays from his 11 years in the NFL, but he also remembers the moments with teammates off the field and his charity work.
“My charity events are something I’ll never forget, but I guess I’ll always remember the pranks I played on teammates,” Hayes said. “I think the biggest thing are the relationships I had with those guys at all the places I played. I think if you asked any of those teammates or coaches, they would say that William Hayes was a grown man who worked hard and didn’t worry about what people thought of him.”