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Hayes working to clear up Rebels' QB picture
Rebels helmet
John Ford was selected from a field of approximately 75-80 candidates.

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD – Effingham County’s starting quarterback hopeful Nate Hayes was on the move during the Georgia High School Association’s designated dead week.

The junior spent the week of Memorial Day – time away from school team practices mandated by the GHSA – getting additional instruction from football camps at Mercer, Clemson and Alabama.

Four days, 1,600 miles.

“I definitely learned a lot about basic fundamentals, how to deliver the ball. Things I learned in those camps are transferring out here to 7 on 7,” said Hayes after ECHS hosted a 7-on-7 workout with Vidalia and New Hampstead on Wednesday morning.

Hayes’ thirst for knowledge and active pursuit of self improvement are great signs for the Rebels, who are looking for a new quarterback to come alive in an offense that features a spread passing attack. Starter Matthew Ford graduated in the spring.

ECHS’ returning receiving corps is elite with highly regarded Keion Wallace (10 Division I offers) leading a group that includes Ashley Thompson, Timmie Brown, Zach Gant, Messiah Bacon and South Effingham-transfer Ty Ergle.

Hayes wants to be under center when the Rebels open the season Aug. 19 against Richmond Hill.

“We definitely have great talent in our receiving corps,” Hayes said. “All glory to God how things come together.”

Hayes adds intangibles. The three-sport participant (guard in basketball and outfielder in baseball) has good mobility. Strong academics (taking advanced placement honor classes) doesn’t hurt decision making.

Hayes comes from an athletic family. His father, Nate Hayes Sr., (who also coached football and basketball at ECHS) played cornerback on Georgia Southern’s first football teams from 1982-84.

ECHS coach John Ford says he won’t make a decision on a starting quarterback until the week before the opener, but he likes what he’s seen from the 5-foot-11, 155-pounder.

“Nate’s done a good job leading and a good job continuing to work,” Ford said. “From Day 1 in the spring to now, he’s progressed. The whole deal is keep progressing, stack as many good days on top as many good days as possible and that goes for him and everyone else.”

In the Rebels lightning-shortened spring game against Bleckley County on May 20, Hayes trotted out with the first-teamers.

And on ECHS’ fourth offensive play, another lightning strike occurred – Hayes and Thompson teamed up on a 53-yard touchdown pass.

“I think the pass not only boosted my confidence, but it boosted the confidence of the team,” Hayes said. “To see that touchdown come to fruition showed what we could do in just a few plays. The linemen did a great job blocking, the receivers all did their jobs to perfection. The running back (blocked) and I delivered the ball.”

Hayes said the Rebels’ confidence is already riding high after doubling the 2021 win total to six and advancing to the state playoffs for the first time since 2018 after notching just three victories in 2020.

ECHS fell three points short of winning a Region 2-AAAAAA championship last year after a 21-18 loss to Brunswick in the regular-season finale.

“There’s a lot of energy about our potential now that we see what it takes to get to that level,” Hayes said. “Playing a great team like Westlake (in the state playoffs) was great exposure. You learn the most when you lose. To have those tough losses last year, that taught us a lot. And the six wins, that gives us the confidence to know that we can go farther.”