That was the last complete memory Hayes had from Saturday afternoon. He would later learn from others that he delivered a sentimental postgame speech to his players, spoke with a newspaper reporter and then went to a hospital in Towson, Md.
His next vivid memory came in the operating room, where Hayes overheard a doctor wondering aloud how the coach remained conscious through the day.
Hayes, 48, suffered a heart attack during his team’s game at Concordia Preparatory School, he said Wednesday from his home in Martinsburg, W.Va.
“I love this game,” said Hayes’s wife, Kelly. “But I don’t know that I would have forgiven it … if I had lost him right there in front of his boys.” Sons Josh and Nate are linemen on the team.
To play a single football game this season was a journey for Hayes and his staff at the private school just southwest of Frederick. The school’s conference, the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, initially forbade team activities because of the coronavirus pandemic before reversing that decision in October, allowing schools to play open schedules.
Hayes lined up seven games, including several with out-of-state teams, but Maryland travel guidelines ultimately limited the team to three games. Hayes said the team learned it would play the finale against Concordia Prep, a team in a higher MIAA division, two days before the game.
“It’s a meat grinder of a lifestyle week-to-week coaching,” Hayes said. “And this is way more unusual than in years past.”
Near the end of the second quarter Saturday, with Saint John’s trailing by three touchdowns, Hayes began feeling heartburn and attributed the pain to indigestion. At halftime, the pain in his chest went from tingling to stabbing. He texted Kelly, asking whether she had peppermints to try to curb the discomfort. She threw some to Hayes from the bleachers. She thought they were for a queasy lineman.
Hayes said he underwent bypass surgery in January 2018. Since then, he has kept nitroglycerin pills in his left pocket for pain relief. He didn’t take any Saturday.
In the fourth quarter, Hayes said his body went numb. Then, Hayes said, his memory blurred. He normally remembers almost every play call from each game. But he doesn’t recall calling plays for most of the fourth quarter.
Usually, Hayes slaps players’ shoulder pads on the sidelines, yells into his headset with assistant coaches and is in constant communication with his quarterback. When he’s upset, he flicks the collar of his white windbreaker with his left hand. He wasn’t doing any of that in the fourth quarter, his wife said. The game was a blowout — Concordia Prep won by 53 points — so Kelly guessed Hayes was disappointed by the score. Assistant coaches thought Hayes was calmer than usual, but they had no idea what he was enduring.
After the game, though, Kelly knew something was wrong when Saint John’s Athletic Director Pete Strickland waved to her. Hayes, whose face had turned gray, informed Strickland he didn’t feel well — the first person he told about his pain. Fellow coaches later notified Hayes that he talked to players about the great opportunity they had to play that day before speaking with a newspaper reporter. Hayes said he doesn’t remember.
Kelly helped Hayes into her silver Nissan Pathfinder and drove about four miles to the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. Hayes stumbled in through the front sliding doors, and he said doctors strapped him to electrocardiography machines. When doctors opened his chest, Hayes said they couldn’t believe he walked into the hospital. Hayes said doctors cleared a blood clot in his heart and inserted a stent. According to Hayes, doctors said he was lucky he did not take his nitroglycerin pills because they could have increased the chance of his blood clot moving to his brain, which could cause a stroke or aneurysm.
The next day in the hospital, Hayes watched tape of Saturday’s game. He was confused by the plays he called late in the game and tried to retrace his steps.
“Something in my head or ego or superego or whatever was on autopilot, and whatever it was was truly the walk that I walk,” said Hayes, who admitted he should have gone to the hospital at halftime. “I love this game, and I love the boys.”
Hayes returned home Monday evening. He said he’s fatigued most of the time but expects to make a full recovery. His season may have ended with a thrashing on the field two days earlier, but he couldn’t have felt more relieved.
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