Brick Memorial’s Chris Hayes Wins Sam Mills Award, Snatches Crucial Interception in Gridiron Classic
BERKELEY TOWNSHIP -- Brick Memorial defensive end Chris Hayes swore all week that he would find a way to get in the end zone in Thursday night's U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic.
That moment came with under five minutes left in the game when Jackson Memorial defensive end Tyler Towns tipped a pass into the air that Hayes grabbed for a crucial interception for Ocean County. Glory was 50 yards away, but Hayes is convinced a certain hindrance caused him to get run down from behind before he could score.
"I would've scored a touchdown if it wasn't for these tight pants, that's all I'm saying,'' Hayes said before laughing.
Constrictive pants aside, it was a memorable night for Hayes as Ocean County made it three wins in a row over Monmouth with a 14-7 victory at Central's Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field in the 39th edition of the Gridiron Classic.
Hayes also was Ocean County's recipient of the prestigious Sam Mills Award, given to a player on each team who embodied the toughness perseverance and character of the late Sam Mills, who starred as a linebacker for Long Branch in the late 1970s before becoming an All-American at Montclair State and an All-Pro linebacker with the New Orleans Saints.
"I wasn't expecting it because I didn't know about the award, but I'm definitely honored,'' Hayes said.
"He was a guy that we knew was really good, but he stood out among the great players that were there,'' said Toms River North coach Dave Oizerowitz, who served as Ocean County's head coach. "Just the way he conducts himself, and he is one of the most explosive and destructive defensive linemen that I've seen. He's a kid who is going to be very successful as he goes on."
Hayes was a two-year starter for the Mustangs who entered the game a bit under the radar among a star-studded defensive line that included a pair of Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore selections in Towns and Toms River North's Da'shon Copes as well as Brick's Jordan Keefe and Dan Finelli, and his Brick Memorial teammates, brothers Mike and Anthony Nobile.
Hayes was a third-team SSN All-Shore selection in the fall after making 64 tackles with a team-high nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss to help the Mustangs reach the Central Jersey Group IV final and claim a share of the Class A South title.
"Throughout high school I came out with something to prove,'' Hayes said. "I felt like I was an underrated player."
He was a key cog on a unit that held Monmouth County to 158 total yards, including minus-2 yards rushing.
"We had so many guys like Tyler Towns and Day-Day (Copes) that we knew we could make an impact on this game,'' Hayes said. "They were kind of doubting us on social media, but we came out here and did our thing."
He will now continue his career at Sacred Heart University, where he will be joined by Keefe, former Manalapan star running back Imamu Mayfield, Matawan defensive back Shawn Ramcheran and linebacker Aliem Shaw and St. John Vianney wideout Mike Stapert in the incoming freshman class.
Hayes also got to play one final game with his best friend and Brick Memorial teammate, defensive back Elie Lavarin. The two have known each other since kindergarten, and Lavarin stayed close during a turbulent freshman year in which Hayes moved to Connecticut before moving back to Brick for his sophomore year.
"I bounced around to a lot of places growing up, but Brick is always where my friends have been and where I felt the most comfortable,'' Hayes said.
"When he said he was coming back for sophomore year, that was probably the best feeling in the world,'' Lavarin said.
It all culminated with a memorable night on the turf at Central, where his only regret was not polishing off his interception with a touchdown.
"He told me he was going to get in the end zone and do something crazy, but I'm not surprised he made that play,'' Lavarin said. "That's Chris."