Piedmont’s Hayes earns another ASWA 3A Back of the Year honor; Warriors’ Cornejo, Diamond recognized

Piedmont senior quarterback Jack Hayes, right, and Piedmont football coach Steve Smith pose with Hayes’s Class 3A Back of the Year award following Thursday’s Alabama Sports Writers Association Football Player of the Year banquet at the Montgomery Renaissance. The event was sponsored by ALFA Insurance and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

MONTGOMERY – Piedmont senior quarterback Jack Hayes doesn’t have the dimensions of a prototypical college football prospect. He doesn’t play for a big school. He doesn’t have the scholarship offers some athletes have that wow some of the Alabama Sports Writers Association members who vote for the Mr. Football award.

But there’s no denying what an incredible high school career he’s had. It’s a career most high school players dream of.

The state record holder for total offense (15,103 yards), passing yards (11,024), touchdown passes (159) and touchdowns accounted for (223), Hayes won his second straight ASWA Class 3A Back of the Year Thursday at the Montgomery Renaissance, but he fell short of the state’s biggest honor: Mr. Football.

That distinction went to Class 6A Saraland sophomore receiver and Alabama commitment Ryan Williams.

Williams, who also won 6A Back of the Year, caught 88 passes for 1,641 yards and 24 touchdowns in leading the Spartans to a 14-1 record and a state title. He also ran 57 times for 700 yards and 15 touchdowns, scored twice on punt returns, and had a touchdown pass.

Williams is just the second underclassman to win Mr. Football. He’s the first sophomore to do so.

When asked if there was any disappointment he didn’t come away with the state’s biggest high school football honor after the season and career he’s had, Hayes was humble in his response.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a disappointment,” he said. “It would be disappointment if I came here looking to win, but I didn’t really come here looking to win because of my size and I’m not going to play football somewhere else (in college). It would’ve been cool if I would’ve won it, but I don’t think I can say I’m disappointed because I really didn’t come here to win it.

“They said there were 30,000 high school football players this (past) year. There were 48 of us here today, and it’s pretty cool to be able to be with a bunch of guys who are going to play at Alabama, Auburn and Clemson and other places.”

It’s a response that Piedmont head coach Steve Smith has come to expect from Hayes, who completed 227-of-373 pass attempts for 3,267 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,592 yards on 219 carries with 23 scores for the state runner-up Bulldogs (12-3).

Hayes was also 51-8 in his career, which included two state titles and runner-up.

“There aren’t many Jack Hayeses out there,” Smith said. “I’m proud of the way he’s been the leader of our football team and the way he’s such a team-first guy. He had the right mindset of a high school football player. He’s done a lot of things to make us all proud. He’s always kept the right perspective of it, being a team-first sport, a team-first mentality. He’d run through a wall for the other guys in the locker room, and they’d do the same for him. That’s just really to me what football is all about.

“I think Jack has obviously had a career that would be hard for anybody to match, looking at all the records, the team success, the championship appearances and championships won. I think you’re going to find a young man who’s going to look back and be very proud of the things he and his team have accomplished over the years. I know I’m certainly proud of him.”

As for his future, Hayes – who was also selected to the ASWA’s Super All-State Team – said he plans on playing baseball at Snead State.

“Unless something I really like comes up in football, then that’s where I’m going to be,” Hayes said.

Class 4A state runner-up Cherokee County also had a pair of players honored Thursday in Montgomery in junior running back Jacob Cornejo and junior defensive lineman Tae Diamond. Both fell short to Oneonta running back Fluff Bothwell and Anniston’s Ryqueze McElderry respectively.

Cornejo collected 2,580 yards on 287 carries with 33 touchdowns for the Warriors (12-3) last season. Diamond delivered 98 tackles, including 27 for loss, with 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two passes batted down.

Cherokee County was one of eight schools who had a pair of finalists in their respective classes. Class 1A Leroy had three.

“It’s definitely a big honor for our school,” said Cornejo, also a member of the Super All-State Team. “I’m glad me and Tae can represent our school and our community. It’s a really good cap (to the season). We’re getting honored for all the things we’ve done throughout the season, all the work we’ve put in. It’s finally paying off. Our school is finally getting put on the map. People are starting to know who we are. It’s a great feeling. I’m ready for next year.”

“I’m just happy to be here,” Diamond added. “I’m thankful for the people who nominated me. Out of 48 finalists, two were from our school. That’s big blessing. It puts our school on the map. We’ve worked hard for this. We’ve worked day in and day out, so it’s a good feeling.”

Cornejo and Diamond are fourth-year head coach Jacob Kelley’s first two players to be honored as ASWA Player of the Year finalists. Kelley said it motivates them both to make a return appearance next football season.

“It’s something that definitely hungers them,” he said. “They’re unselfish players. They’re playing for the right reasons. They’re playing for their teammates. They’ve already hit it full steam ahead (for next season).

“I have no doubt they’ll be successful in their play next year. They’re going to get bigger, faster, stronger. I consider them candidates to repeat as successful a 2023 season. What we did this year was hard to do. We had a special year. We’re in the process of attacking 2023 the way we attacked 2022, and those guys are going to be big pieces for us.”

Below is a complete list of Thursday’s ASWA high school football award winners.


Ryan Williams, Saraland


(top 12 players regardless of school’s classification)

Ryan Williams, Saraland

Peter Woods, Thompson

Jack Hayes, Piedmont

Earl Woods, Hueytown

Fluff Bothwell, Oneonta

Cole Gamble, Mountain Brook

Jacob Cornejo, Cherokee Co.

Kelby Collins, Gardendale

Bradyn Joiner, Auburn

Jaquavious Russaw, Carver-Montgomery

Hunter Osborne, Hewitt-Trussville

Cole Blaylock, UMS-Wright


7A: Peter Woods, Thompson

6A: Kelby Collins, Gardendale

5A: Zion Grady, Charles Henderson

4A: Ryqueze McElderry, Anniston

3A: Sterling Dixon, Mobile Christian

2A: Keldric Faulk, Highland Home

1A: Bryston Dixon, Leroy

AISA: Jack Gibson, Patrician


7A: Peyton Floyd, Hewitt-Trussville

6A: Ryan Williams, Saraland

5A: Cole Blaylock, UMS-Wright

4A: Fluff Bothwell, Oneonta

3A: Jack Hayes, Piedmont

2A: Kamore Harris, B.B. Comer

1A: Alvin Henderson, Elba

AISA: George Meyers, Lee-Scott


(originally named Dec. 18)

7A: Zach Golson, Mary Montgomery

6A: Chris Yeager, Mountain Brook

5A: Lee Ozmint, Arab

4A: Trent Taylor, Andalusia

3A: Jimmy Perry, St. James

2A: Adam Fossett, B.B. Comer

1A: Mark O’Bryant, Coosa Christian

AISA: Buster Daniel, Lee-Scott


2022: Ryan Williams, Saraland receiver

2021: Ryan Peppins, Thompson receiver

2020: GaQuincy McKinstry, Pinson Valley receiver/defensive back


2019: Kristian Story, Lanett quarterback

2018: Bo Nix, Pinson Valley quarterback

2017: Asa Martin, Austin running back

2016: La’Damian Webb, Beauregard running back

2015: Tyler Johnston, Spanish Fort quarterback


2014: Kerryon Johnson, Madison Academy running back

2013: Racean Thomas, Oxford running back

2012: Jeremy Johnson, Carver-Montgomery quarterback

2011: T.J. Yeldon, Daphne running back

2010: Jamal Golden, Wetumpka quarterback


2009: Coty Blanchard, Cherokee County quarterback

2008: Clint Moseley, Leroy quarterback

2007: Julio Jones, Foley wide receiver

2006: Larry Smith, Prattville quarterback

2005: Andre Smith, Huffman offensive lineman


2004: Jarod Bryant, Hoover quarterback

2003: Chris Nickson, Pike Co. quarterback

2002: JaMarcus Russell, Williamson quarterback

2001: Brandon Cox, Hewitt-Trussville quarterback

2000: Carnell Williams, Etowah running back


1999: Cory Whisenant, Springville running back

1998: DeMarco McNeil, Blount defensive lineman

1997: Mac Campbell, Alexandria running back

1996: Antoneyo Williams, Central-Tuscaloosa running back

1995: Gorman Thornton, Jeff Davis tight end


1994: Dawud Rasheed, Shades Valley running back

1993: Thomas Banks, West Jefferson running back

1992: Freddie Kitchens, Etowah quarterback

1991: Robert Davis, Homewood running back

1990: David Palmer, Jackson-Olin wide receiver


1989: Steven Coleman, Pike Co. running back

1988: Darrell Williams, Vigor running back

1987: Robert Jones, Parker running back

1986: Larry Ware, Lee-Montgomery running back

1985: Pierre Goode, Hazlewood running back


1984: Roderick Green, Gardendale wide receiver

1983: Freddy Weygand, Emma Sansom wide receiver

1982: Tommy Compton, Vigor quarterback

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