HIGH POINT: Because of a friendship that goes back more than 20 years, Los Angeles Rams defensive end and High Point native William Hayes was in the cafeteria of Parkview Village Elementary School speaking to a group of third through fifth graders Monday afternoon.
It’s not a novelty that Hayes was giving a speech extolling the virtues of good study habits and citizenship. He said for the past four years he has normally given five or so talks annually to students in High Point schools while living in town during the offseason.
“When someone asks me to come speak, I generally won’t turn anyone down,” said Hayes, who has played eight seasons in the NFL. “I always take the initiative to do the right thing.”
This year, he had time to give just two because of demands that included being on the free agent market until reaching a new three-year deal with the Rams, having to go to Los Angeles for orientation after the Rams moved from Saint Louis and the birth of his fourth child.
Both speeches he gave this offseason were at Parkview because of his ties to one of the fourth-grade teachers there, Cheryl Nance-Pegues, who was a neighbor of Hayes when he was growing up.
“He played in my backyard a lot with my son,” Pegues said. “They were best friends and we went to the same church. I’ve known William for a long time.”
Pegues said she began having Hayes talk to her students when she was at Shadybrook Elementary and continued the practice when she moved to Parkview.
“We’ve gone to the same church,” Hayes said. “We’ve always had that bond. I talk to her more now than her son. She’s a great woman. She does a great job of mentoring me, making sure I do the right things in life.
“She just helps with my everyday walk. She’s somebody I can call and she’ll give me great advice. She is going to give me advice from a spiritual standpoint. She cares about people and we share the same values. That’s how we connect from a spiritual and mental standpoint.”
Said Pegues: “All I do is call him and he comes. All I have to tell him is when and what time and what to talk about.”
On Monday, Hayes talked about the school’s character trait of the month – self-discipline – plus the importance of hard work and to stay focused.
“I want to be an inspiration for a little child who may think there is no way out (of a poor neighborhood),” Hayes said. “I tell them my life story, that I wasn’t in a good situation at one time and I kept working and stayed positive. My message is always strive to be the best you can be.”
Hayes spoke to the students for about 15 minutes, took questions ranging from his position and his best season and whether he had played the Panthers to study habits and his charitable foundation. When that was over, the group ate pizza and doughnuts that he provided.
Why pizza and doughnuts?
“To get the kids excited,” Hayes said. “I loved pizza and doughnuts when I was a kid. So I figured it was a way to get them excited.”
During his talk, Hayes sat on the steps of a stage instead of standing to create a more casual feel. A recurring theme during his talk and the question-and-answer session was the importance of spending more time on school work and less time on video games and toys.
“They can’t say that I don’t know what it is like to grow up poor and make it to the NFL,” Hayes said. “My dad got sick and then we didn’t have a good financial situation. So I know what it’s like when it’s hard to pay the bills.”
He detailed how poor grades kept him from getting an athletic scholarship to play football for an NCAA Division I school, how he had to go to Barber-Scotia before getting into Winston-Salem State, the embarrassment of getting kicked off the team at WSSU for not going to class and then working to get reinstated. He discussed how not playing for a major college may have cost him millions of dollars going into the NFL because he was a low draft pick and how he had trouble learning his playbook when he was with the Tennessee Titans, his first team, because he wasted too much time playing video games.
“I don’t think I ran around with the wrong crowd when I was in high school or college,” he said in response to one question. “I just ran around with people that liked to have fun and a good time. If you spend 30 minutes a day less playing video games or with your toys, it can make a big difference.”
Hayes also detailed his efforts to help the homeless in St. Louis, which included living as homeless person as a night.
“That had as big of an impact on me as anything in my life,” he said.
Pegues, who wore a Hayes jersey on Monday, said Hayes makes an impact with her students.
“I recently had a student that wasn’t focusing on his work,” Pegues said. “William came to visit and it made such a difference in the child. I would call William and put him on speakerphone and he would talk to this child. It was like a 110 percent difference because he wanted to focus. He wanted to do so much better.
“This year it’s the same thing. The students see where he’s come from and what he’s done and he’s a High Point native. He’s done so well and he is a regular old Joe to them.”
Said Hayes: “I know I can’t reach every single kid. But if I can reach three or four, I’ve served my purpose.”