It wasn’t so much the hit as it was the viral reaction to the play itself that blindsided Josh Hayes. Nearly two weeks have passed since the Osbourn Park senior burst into the trenches on a routine rushing play, only to be wrapped up and body slammed to the ground by highly touted Woodbridge senior defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand. Hand’s tackle was the most popular video on washingtonpost.com for a week.
The play added to the intrigue surrounding a senior whom many consider to be the nation’s best. For Hayes, the experience of being the unsuspecting co-star in a video that made its way to the No. 8 spot on SportsCenter’s Top Plays and onto countless Web sites has been quite different.
“Sure, it’s pretty cool,” Hayes said. “But I didn’t think they would televise and hype up an unsportsmanlike hit like they did, especially in high school.”
The target on Hayes was actually drawn days before the Sept. 6 contest, as the senior found himself in the middle of some friendly trash talk. The banter stemmed from Hayes’s stint as a Woodbridge student during his freshman and sophomore years, a time during which he befriended a budding star in Hand. But after Hayes transferred to Osbourn Park in 2012, he suddenly became a rival, leading some Woodbridge students to relay catcalls of “traitor” during the early stages of the game.
“The whole night, Woodbridge was coming hard at me,” Hayes said. “I knew a big hit was coming, [but I didn’t know] it would be a slam.”
The play unfolded on a handoff to Hayes midway through the first quarter. As he rushed up the middle, he saw Hand approach his path after the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder had spun free from two Osbourn Park offensive linemen. As Hayes lowered his shoulder to absorb the contact, Hand grabbed him with two hands for the tackle. But while Hayes expected his former classmate to simply knock him backward to stop the play, Hand instead powered up and slammed a stunned Hayes to the grass. No flag was thrown on the play.
“As he is [picking me up], the refs blow the whistle, [so] I’m thinking this guy is just going to put me down since the play is over,” Hayes said. “But he slams me like it’s a WWE match or something. I was very in shock that he did that; there was no need to. . . . The hit didn’t faze me at all. I mean for him to be a ‘D-1’ player, I thought he could hit, not slam, harder than that.”
Hayes wasn’t the only one surprised. Hand didn’t anticipate picking up the 5-foot-9, 174-pound running back, but once he gained the leverage and put himself in motion, Hand followed through with a play that he calls one of his favorites — and not because it came against an old friend in Hayes.
“Hahah nah I was just playing football,” Hand said in a text message. “I am surprised at all the attention. It just took off.”
Nine players later, Hayes would go on to score the first of his two touchdowns on a night when he also rushed for 89 yards in a 26-22 loss.
Afterward, the two shared a quick laugh and when Hand tweeted Hayes during the next week over the video’s widespread attention, Hayes said he sarcastically told Hand that it was a “good play.” But as the hit continued to spread throughout social media and on ESPN, Hayes admittedly grew weary of the buzz and jokes from friends. Hayes said he has yet to share his true feelings about the play with Hand; at this point, he believes the video should speak for itself.
“That play was dangerous for both me and him. … [and] he, as a top five recruit, should know how to play football,” Hayes said. “I wish how I bounced back after the play was highlighted, too, [but] it’s all part of the game. I’m just going to stay focused and keep playing football.”
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