Hayden knows a thing or two about rising to meet a challenge head on. Now, it appears his hard work and dedication are paying off in big ways.
“We are beyond speechless,” said Stacy Ray, Hayden’s mother. “Watching some of the things he has done on and off the field has been unreal.”
At Bryant High School, this 17-year-old senior carries a 4.04 grade point average through multiple AP- and college-level classes. “It can be pretty overwhelming sometimes,” Hayden said.
On the football field, Hayden has not only developed into one of Arkansas’ best kickers, he’s also one of the best in the country. When asked how those talents came about, he says he owes it all to a different type of football.
“Athletically, I’ve just been blessed with an ability to kick, and it’s funny because when I was younger, everything was always soccer,” Hayden said.
“Our soccer coach was also an assistant football coach, and he knew I had a pretty strong leg,” he added. “I gave it a shot, and when he told me I was on the team, I just thought, ‘Cool. I’ll give it a go.’”
Hayden certainly appeared to give it more than just “a go.” During his senior season, he tied Bryant’s team record for longest made field goal at 49-yards and set a new longest punt mark at 65-yards. Hayden also set school and state seasonal records for field goals made with 19.
“Hayden has always been one of those kids who was a go-getter,” said Stacy Ray. “All of his football success started by growing up playing soccer, and he had such determination to get better. Watching this has been so exciting, and we are just waiting to see where God guides him and wants him to go.”
While his achievements during the Hornets’ 2016 season served as a big individual honor for Hayden, he found a way to parlay those accomplishments into serving others in a unique way – his on-the-field performance amounted to monetary donations and pledges toward cancer research affecting children.
“The charity I participated in for football was called ‘Kick It.’” Hayden said. “They’re an organization teaming up with colleges and high schools. For every point a kicker scores, they raise money for children diagnosed with cancer.
“People can donate or make pledges as the season goes on, which is exciting,” he added. “At the end of our season, I was fortunate to raise more than $4,000 for the children, which was my original goal.”
Equally exciting, Hayden says, is knowing his hard work playing football is going a long way toward possibly saving someone’s life in the future. That might make you wonder if there’s any extra pressure?
“Before taking part in the charity, I would just kick for my teammates, for my family or for myself,” he said. “It was my job while on the field.”
“This year, I wanted to serve others and kick for someone other than myself. I knew someone else was benefiting from what I was doing on the field. There were obviously nerves involved, but it was just added motivation.”
Moving on from high school this spring, Hayden says he’s become interested in forensic science and might pursue that as his field of study in college.
When asked what he might be doing on Saturday afternoons in the fall, Hayden says he’d love to kick for a Division I program, hopefully Arkansas State. “I’ve toured their campus, and they have a great team. I haven’t heard anything yet, but I’m hopeful.”
Playing at a higher level is something his mother Stacy and father Scott would like to see happen, too. “It’s so overwhelming,” Stacy said. “We just all try to remain focused on what we know matters as all of this plays out. We’re hoping to see him kick in college and go on to achieve all of his dreams.”