August 24, 2009

Dynamic duo friends and competitors

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Kendall Hayes and Tyler Stephenson will anchor one of the nation's top defensive backfields in football before turning their efforts to a third consecutive University Interscholastic League 4A state track title.

The Lancaster (Texas) High School seniors - best friends since eighth grade and now coveted Division I prospects - are two of the nation's top returning sprint hurdlers.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Hayes recorded 80 tackles at linebacker as a junior last season, stuffing the run efficiently against bigger backs. He's moving to safety for his senior season, which will allow him to utilize his blazing speed in the open field to shut down receivers and chase down backs in an effort to propel Lancaster back to the postseason.

"That's my goal," Hayes said, "make the playoffs again and get to the state championship game."

A solid performance on the football field bodes well for the outdoor track and field season.

"Football prepares me for track," said Hayes, whose No. 1 sport is track. "Because of my position, I do a lot of running; it's not track shape, but I'm not far behind. If I perform well, it carries over into track."

On June 6, Hayes captured second place in the 110 hurdles at the UIL state track meet against 4A competition. His time of 13.71 seconds ranks No. 5 in the nation and No. 1 for incoming seniors.

Two weeks later, he competed at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. Hayes ended the summer by representing the U.S. at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Italy, where he made it to the semifinals in the 110s.

"It was real fun. I met lots of new people," Hayes said. "We were treated like celebrities with little kids asking for autographs."

Hayes was introduced to hurdles in seventh grade by watching his older brother Darryl, now 20 and a 400-meter runner at Sam Houston State University. With a solid track offer on the table from the University of Michigan, Hayes can concentrate on improving technique as more offers come his way this fall.

Football first for Stephenson

Plenty of football offers have been coming in for Stephenson, one of the best cornerbacks in Texas who has a four-star ranking by Rivals.com. On July 19, he committed to Baylor.

But track and field may not be completely out of the running after high school for Stephenson.

"I'd like to play both sports for sure," said Stephenson, who recorded 55 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 14 pass breakups last season. "After my first year, I can re-evaluate to make sure I can compete well in both."

And while football remains his first love, track is a close second.

"I've played football since I was 7 years old," he said. "I didn't start running track till eighth grade."

Yet Stephenson's 13.78 personal record in the 110s ranks eighth nationally and is third best for returning sprint hurdlers. A fourth-place finish at the UIL state meet helped propel Lancaster to its second consecutive 4A crown.

"At first I was kind of scared after the 4x1 dropped the baton," Stephenson said. "But we won, and it's one of the best feelings ever."

After the Texas state meet, Stephenson competed at the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational (Puerto Rico), capturing gold in the 110s (14.06) before joining Hayes for the Nike Outdoor Nationals, where he placed third in the 110s at 13.99.

"The Caribbean Classic was a lot of fun," Stephenson said. "We had a hotel on the beach. I met a lot of new people and we traveled to historic sites."

With a full outdoor season remaining, Stephenson has his sights on the school records in the 110s (13.61) and the 300s (36.78).

"I also want to make the playoffs in football and make sure everyone has a chance to go to college," he said.

National-caliber athletes and team leaders, Hayes and Stephenson cherish their friendship.

"Tyler's hilarious. If we get in trouble, he'd be the reason why. He's a clown," Hayes said.

To which Stephenson responds: "Kendall's the best friend I could ever ask for, even though he thinks he's funny but he's really not. He's gotta try real hard at it."

For receivers and backs in the fall, and for district and state opponents in the spring, competing against Texas' dynamic duo is no laughing matter.

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