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Lafayette's Hayes wants to go out a winner
Leopards receiver and other seniors have not beaten Lehigh
Kyle Hayes doesn’t need a game film. The moment is etched in his mind and he can bring it back at will.
Lafayette quarterback Rob Curley is kneeling on the Goodman Stadium turf, his head in his hands after he threw an interception in overtime, allowing Lehigh to steal a 27-21 victory over the Leopards in 2009.
Curley’s worst moment — and the finest for Lehigh linebacker Al Pierce.
“I just turned and looked at fans running on the field and decided that in my senior year this wasn’t going to happen again,” Hayes said Tuesday. “It was bad. People were yelling at Rob. I was over on his side where he was leaning down. I got him to get up and come to the sideline. I took it all in and used it as a motivation over the past two years. I want to make sure that’s not the same memory we have this week.”
Hayes got into that game after Mitch Bennett injured a knee, and Hayes was on the receiving end of a 34-yard TD pass with 1:43 left that sent the game into overtime. But he couldn’t celebrate. Pierce saw to that.
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Hayes is now a senior, one of 26 on Lafayette’s roster. They have never defeated Lehigh.
Chances are all of them will play the final organized football game of their lives when they return to Goodman Stadium at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for the 147th renewal of the most-played college football series in America.
Lafayette is 4-7; Lehigh is 9-1 and ranked as high as sixth in Football Championship Subdivision national polls. The Mountain Hawks, with the Patriot League championship in their pocket and hoping to nail down an FCS tournament bye, are heavily favored.
Hayes did not play in the Lehigh game as a freshman, maybe because he was still trying to learn the wide receiver position after being a quarterback in high school — “On my highlight video, I had one play where I caught a pass,” he said.
However, he did almost anything else.
“I remember recruiting Kyle,’ Leopards coach Frank Tavani said. “Other than working in the refreshment stand or handing out programs, he did everything else for his high school team. He was one of the most versatile athletes we recruited in quite some time.”
In addition to playing quarterback, Hayes was the punter, the placekicker, the kickoff man, the punt returner and the kickoff returner at Kittatinny Regional near Newton, N.J. On defense, he was the free safety —– and as a sophomore, he even played running back/H-back.
“I had a great time in high school,” Hayes said. Wisconsin was interested in him “but I knew in the back of my mind I didn’t want to go that far from home.” Princeton was interested, but filled its recruiting class; Rutgers was interested. And when Hayes visited Lafayette, where offensive lineman Brian Wycinowski showed him around, he liked what he saw.
Adjusting to college football was another thing, however — “I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said about becoming a wideout. “At the time I didn’t know how lost I was, but looking back now that I understand, I know.” Shaun Adair and Tim Watson mentored him as a player.
Hayes had 10 catches as a sophomore, then caught 39 balls for 547 yards and five TDs in 2010. But a first-quarter hit in the Holy Cross game resulted in a separated right shoulder. He lobbied doctors three consecutive days before finally being told he would not be able to play against Lehigh.
That injury took four months to come around, and Hayes was set to redeem his career as a senior. But in the opening game at North Dakota State, he suffered a separation of his left shoulder.
“I had never had shoulder issues in my life to this point,” he said. He admitted he thought his career might be finished “because it felt exactly the same as last time.” Two days later, he started feeling better, but he missed four games and didn’t return to the lineup until after the Lafayette bye week.
Since then, he has been a big-play receiver. He has been on the receiving end of plays covering 54, 49, 43, 35, 27 and 26 yards — only Mark Ross has more (nine) 20-and-over catches. Hayes has caught 27 passes for 480 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Hayes said his favorite challenge as a wide receiver is that “every play is a one-on-one battle. You know who you’re going to play, based on where you’re lined up, to the field or the boundary. I love to look at the defense pre-snap and, as soon as the ball snaps, know what coverage they’re in and then break off a route based on that.”
He has watched lots of film of the Lehigh defensive backs and said the Mountain Hawks “have a very impressive front seven. It’s important that we run the ball some, and I think we can establish that. And we have to put the ball in the air, obviously, as we have in the previous weeks. Then it’s receivers making plays and [quarterback Andrew] Shoop putting it where he needs to.”
By Paul Reinhard, The Morning Call