Success usually comes in spades for people who can balance humbleness and confidence.
New Boston’s R.J. Hayes is the epitome of a person who represents exactly that.
And because of Hayes’ qualities, the senior is going to have an opportunity to play collegiate tennis. The Tigers’ top singles player, the SOC I Singles Runner-Up, and Jason Carter’s lone Division II East/Southeast District competitor signed to play the sport at Ohio Christian University earlier in the month.
For Hayes, the realization of a dream that he set out to accomplish four years prior, when Hayes picked up a racket for the first time ever, is nothing less than thrilling.
“It feels amazing, honestly,” Hayes said. “I went on a campus visit, and everyone up at Ohio Christian was so accepting. They were very nice all the way around.”
But as far as Jason Carter is concerned, Ohio Christian is the luckier of the two parties.
“Ohio Christian is getting an excellent student-athlete,” Carter said. “They’re getting somebody who really puts forth the effort in the books and on the tennis court. It’s every coach’s dream to have a kid like R.J.”
Carter, however, almost never got the chance to coach Hayes. As a freshman, Hayes was down to either baseball or tennis, with both sports providing plenty of appeal to the youngster. Ultimately, the faster pace that tennis offered won out.
“I tried tennis out for the first time as a freshman,” Hayes said. “The coaches were so amazing with helping me with everything, and their leadership really helped me improve over the years. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it to sectionals or have obtained this scholarship opportunity.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
After starting out in doubles, Hayes continued to improve from doubles to the No. 3 singles slot, and eventually, to the No. 1 overall singles position. In 2017 alone, Hayes handed Shawnee State signee Nate Hinze his only loss amongst SOC I foes and only lost one SOC I match all year — to Hinze. Hayes later put himself among the “Elite Eight” who qualified for Division II East/Southeast District tennis play — an amazing feat considering New Boston’s size as a school.
“He’s one of those coachable kids that you only need to tell to do something once, and he’ll go out and do it,” Carter said. “He’d stay after practice to hit extra balls, and really put forth effort to evolve his game. R.J. really represented New Boston well, not only with his play, but with his attitude. Tennis is definitely a mental sport as much as it is a physical sport, and it’s really hard to get R.J. rattled. He’s such a sound player, both fundamentally and mentally, and that’s going to help him at the collegiate level.”
Hayes, however, believes that his coaches and teammates are responsible for fostering those qualities in the first place.
“It felt great,” Hayes said. “I loved competing out there on the tennis courts with my teammates. They really pushed me to be the best that I could be in every match. “Without (Jason) Carter, I wouldn’t have made it to Ohio Christian. He helped me so much.”
However, Hayes doesn’t want to quit pursuing his passions. In addition to a tennis career with the Trailblazers, the senior will be looking to coach or manage an organization with the Sport Management degree that he will attempt to obtain at OCU.
“On the tennis court, I just want to get better and improving on a day-by-day basis,” Hayes said. “In the classroom, I’m going to major in Sports Management. I want to do something in sports for the rest of my life.”
And when Hayes’ only regret is the fact that the New Boston native didn’t start tennis earlier, that’s definitely a good sign for what is to come.
“I feel really good about playing tennis,” Hayes said. “My only regret was not starting it at an earlier age, because I feel that I can do so much more with it.”
However, it’s clear that Hayes already has.
“R.J.’s a great young man,” Carter said. “This opportunity couldn’t come about for a better student-athlete. He’s a really coachable young man, and I’m so proud of him for taking on the responsibility of playing tennis at the next level.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7