Few high school students push themselves to the limits of Charles Hays. On the football field, Hays has put in the dedication that earned himself a scholarship to attend UC Davis.
Still, he won’t rest until his homework is done.
“I’ve had some really late nights,” Hays said. “Sometimes, I’ll take a break, go to sleep for a couple hours, wake up, and keep going.”
On top of that, Hays competes on the basketball court and in track and field, all for the love of the game.
It may be extremely rare in America’s high schools today, but to former La Quinta High School boys’ basketball coach Jeff Hepner, that’s just who Charles Hays is — the epitome of the student-athlete.
“He’s not going to fail at anything,” Hepner said. “Quitting, failing or giving up are just not in his vocabulary.”
But during his four years of high school, Hays had plenty of opportunities to fail, or just give up. That’s what comes with playing 10 full seasons of sports throughout high school, including being a three-sport athlete his junior and senior years.
Instead, he blossomed into the type of role player coaches dream of, leading by example in and out of competition while putting his academics first.
Hays’ time in high school athletics are winding down, as he competes in the CIF Southern Section preliminary track and field meet Saturday in the shot put. In a matter of weeks when he walks across the stage at graduation, he can boast about his 4.7 GPA or the three Desert Valley League titles he led each of his teams to his senior year — an unprecedented accomplishment in today’s trend of high school athlete specialization.
But Hays won’t brag at all. That’s just not him.
“I just try to lead by example,” he said. “If other people see me working hard, hopefully they will want to work hard too.”
A change in plans
Becoming a three-sport athlete at the end of high school wasn’t ever in Hays’ plan. He played on the freshman football and basketball teams at La Quinta, and even saw some playing time on the varsity basketball squad before the year ended.
But for reasons he can’t even describe, Hays opted out of football the following fall, giving himself more time to hone his basketball skills.
He took up track and field simply because it’s what some of his good friends were doing in the spring.
But La Quinta football coach Dan Armstrong recognized that the sophomore had the size, speed, footwork and dedication he could mold into a college football prospect.
“I told his dad a few years ago when he was focusing on basketball instead of football, ‘I don’t make promises, but if he decides to play football again, he’s the closest thing to a sure scholarship as I’ve had in a long time because of the combination of his size, feet, speed and intelligence,’ ” Armstrong said. “It doesn’t come around often.”
Hays made the smart decision and added football back to his arsenal, quickly becoming an every-down standout as a defensive end and tight end.
But adding another sport meant giving away another chunk of his summer. Even when he’s not in school, Hays hardly knows the meaning of “free time.”
After school lets out, he arrives at the track for throwers workouts around 6:30 a.m., followed by a stint in the weight room until 9 a.m. Afterward he’d head to basketball practice that Hepner set at a special time so his players, like Hays, who were working out for football, could attend.
By the time he got home mid-afternoon, he’d need a nap just to have energy to hang out with friends in the evening.
“He knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play, and sometimes it’s hard for kids his age to find that maturity level,” Armstrong said. “I think that was one of the things that was most marketable to the schools, because that’s hard to find.”
Once school starts back up, Hays is always in season for one of his three sports, but of course there’s always overlap from one season to the next.
This fall, the Blackhawks made it three games deep into the CIF Southern Section Football playoffs after dominating the DVL, going 6-0 while clinching an outright League title. It wasn’t until losing to Serrano 52-24 on Nov. 28 that the team’s run came to an end, less than a week before the basketball team’s first scheduled game of the season.
Hays admitted he managed to get some shots up on the weekends during the fall, but he largely had to put off basketball prep till the season was in full swing.
Hepner knew his senior was sharp enough to pick up subtle changes in the team’s plays on the fly.
“He’s one of those guys that never missed a practice, never had an excuse for anything, and that kind of rubs off,” Hepner said. “If other guys wanted to take a day off, well, Charles never did.”
Oddly enough, playing basketball, gave coaches recruiting Hays for a football scholarship additional opportunities to witness his athleticism and sharp footwork that translated to each of his three sports.
“When guys came in and watched him, they came and watched his basketball games,” Armstrong said. “They watched him moving his feet and running down the floor and said it was a no-brainer.”
During his junior and senior years, Hays picked up football offers from Air Force, UC Davis, Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV, Army and even Oregon State, a late contender from the Pac 12.
His grades got him looks from the Ivy League, too.
Going against today’s trend of letting athletics guide his college choice, Hays walked in on National Signing Day to sign his letter of intent to attend UC Davis.
Sure, he’d get to play football, but his main focus was the exemplary education in engineering and computer science he could pick up along the way.
For Hays, academics have always been number one.
“Even in first grade, my mom, she was pushing me all the time to do homework and teach me stuff before I did other things,” Hays said.
He loves to compete
Even with a scholarship offer wrapped up and no plans to pursue track and field beyond high school, Hays came out for the team to join fellow seniors Omar Valenzuela, Bobby Orrellano, Westley Siebdrath and Brandon Sedlaczek.
Hays started his season with ground to make up because of his basketball season, but Ansley said his footwork and pure strength polished from years playing multiple sports helped him make quick progress. Since, he’s improved nearly 30 feet in the discus to improve to a personal record just short of 150 feet.
“He’s the kind of kid you want on your team who doesn’t rest on what he did yesterday,” Ansley said. “He never rests on that he’s a big kid and that he’s going to dominate.”
As his high school athletic career comes to an end, even Hays was surprised in his last regular season track meet when he thought back on his teams’ accomplishments this school year. An undefeated football run through the DVL. Beating rival Palm Desert in the final regular season game for the school’s first boys’ basketball DVL title. Being a member of a throwing team that didn’t lose a single point all season.
“It actually just hit me. Then I was like ‘Man, I just won three DVLs this year,’ ” Hays said.
But the humble Hays chalks it up to being surrounded by excellent teammates.
His coaches know it’s more than just a coincidence.
“If you had to pick a kid you wanted to represent this school, there’s a lot of them. There’s kids with amazing grades, but he epitomizes it all,” Hepner said. “It’s not just athletics. He’s a model citizen. He’s never in trouble. His grades are spectacular … yet he doesn’t walk with any arrogance about him.”
Now, Hays will have to figure out how to deal with just one sport on his plate. But after years of watching him take on new challenges with a tough class schedule and new sports, Ansley said he knows Hays will be successful in anything he pursues.
“I don’t think he’s going to come back to the desert as a disappointment,” he said.