By Lonnie Turner
Twenty-nine years at the helm of one of the most prolific high school football programs in the state, and to think that he was overlooked as a replacement for his legendary coach, Paul Chapman, when he returned to Dillon in 1990, was beyond this writer.
Since that year, Coach Hayes and his great staff have run off 19 consecutive years and had it not been for the COVID-19 Pandemic, his 5-1, 2020 team would surely have made it 20 straight.
According to MaxPreps, his 336-56 record places him as the 32nd winningest percentage high school active coach in the nation. Quite an achievement in any man’s book for a man who started off too young to be a head football coach.
Coach Hayes and his teams have won state championships at Clemson University’s Death Valley, Benedict College, Williams Brice Stadium and at Newberry.
Amazingly, the Cats were State Champions in four consecutive trips to the finals and a total of seven out of 14 appearances, which included eight straight.
He went to the playoffs 29 times or every year as head coach dating back to that first year in 1992. Coach Hayes has always said that his assistant coaches are the true champion leaders of the Wildcats. As statistician and public address announcer at home games it is of great importance that a starting lineup be obtained prior to each game. The first year when I, in that role, approached him, he pointed to the offensive and defensive coaches and told me that is where I should get the lineups for each game, because they know who will be where as the games begin…and it was that way for the nearly 30 years working with him.
Coach Hayes was coached by assistants from the Chapman Era, including Gerald Reeves, Willie Fred Daniels, Jason Gunter, Richard Clark, Skip Myers and Johnny Dew, Sr.
As a head coach, he inherited a staff from two-year head coach Lee Segars, that included his former coaches Reeves, Gunter and Daniels to name a few.
“I have assistant coaches with me who could be head coaches anywhere in the state and I’m fortunate to have them here with me.”
Coach Hayes told me as he began such a fabulous career. Since then, Coaches Chapman and Daniels have passed on and Reeves and Gunter have retired. That didn’t stop Hayes. He managed to recruit some more exceptionally talented coaches like Defensive Coordinator Marty McIntyre and Offensive Coordinator Alan McLaurin and Defensive back coach Greg Dozier, who just wrapped up his 27th year as head baseball coach, Robbie Brown (Now at Purnell Swett High School near Pembroke, NC) and many others who I have knowingly left out, but not intentionally.’
Needless to say, “Coach” Hayes’ father, the late Reverend Julius “Jack” Hayes, was his role model when he was growing up and surely “Big Jack” is proudly smiling down on him for his accomplishments as a coach and for other aspects of his life.