By Mara Allen
GREEN BAY – While the Green Bay Blizzard’s 2023 season didn’t go as hoped, one can find the silver lining in the opportunities players were given to showcase their talent at the professional level.
Blizzard defensive linemen Anthony Hayes is a prime example of a player who made the most of those opportunities.
Hayes grew up moving around Florida, living in Tallahassee, Bradenton and Panama City. Interested in sports from a young age, he idolized LeBron James.
“As a young man growing up without a father, you need someone to look up to,” Hayes explained. “He was just the perfect role model as a man.”
The second youngest of four, Hayes grew up with two older brothers, which is eventually how he discovered his love for football.
After trying flag football around the age of seven, he eventually got into tackle. “I went to my brother’s high school football practice, and I saw the youth team practicing across the way,” Hayes said. “I just walked over to practice and signed myself up. I went home and was like ‘Mom, I play football now.’”
And the rest is history.
Excelling on the football field, Hayes had significant interest coming out of Bay High School in Panama City.
However, he acknowledged that his academics weren’t as strong, making him ineligible to play for a lot of collegiate programs.
“I had to go to junior college out of high school,” Hayes explained. “I committed to Coffeyville Community College [in Kansas], but then I found out I was having a daughter, and I didn’t want to be 17 hours away from home. So I decommitted and went to Southwest Mississippi Community College.”
During his time with the Bears, Hayes became one of the highest ranked junior college recruits in the nation and committed to Division I University of Tulsa. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of his second year, forcing Hayes to go home without finishing school.
“Tulsa ended up taking their offer back after I couldn’t get into the school,” he said. “So after that, I just went home for a year and a half. I was on the couch with my family, being a father.”
But Hayes wasn’t ready to give up on football quite yet.
“My recruiting process never stopped,” he said. “Texas A&M University-Commerce called me and gave me a chance to get off the couch. They still believed in my abilities.”
Hayes proved himself at Division II A&M-Commerce.
After a strong season with the Lions, he received an invitation to the Podyum All-Star Bowl, an elite collegiate all-star game held annually in Miami, Fla., with NFL, CFL, Indoor and international scouts in attendance.
Competing in the Bowl this past January, Hayes impressed enough to get some good film and pick up an agent.
“My agent reached out to a couple different places [at a higher level] for me… Teams were saying they wanted to see some more film of me. I just needed some more film,” he said.
During his agent’s pursuit to get Hayes more film, one of the teams he reached out to was the Green Bay Blizzard, a member of the IFL.
Hayes decided to come to Green Bay, signing three days before players were supposed to report to training camp and months after most of the team had signed.
“I definitely was feeling like I had to prove myself. I felt like I was a last minute invite to fill the numbers,” he said. “But I was happy to have the opportunity.”
And he made the absolute most of that opportunity.
Hayes got off to a dominant start, establishing himself as one of the top defenders in the IFL.
Through the first half of the season, he led the league in sacks and tackles for loss.
“I was just making plays,” he said of his hot start.
Reminiscing on the season, Hayes said his favorite moment was his “first professional win against Iowa.”
In that game, Hayes recorded four tackles for loss and two sacks.
Towards the midway point of the season, a back injury slowed Hayes down a bit, and a few weeks later, an ankle injury sidelined him for two games.
Like with any athlete dealing with injuries, mental toughness was key in his comeback.
Hayes credits his strength to his mom, Sheila, who he described as the person he looks up to the most because “she always showed me how to stay strong under any circumstances, good or bad.”
Even though the Blizzard did not meet their goal of advancing to postseason play or winning a championship, many players — especially Hayes — took advantage of the opportunities that playing for Green Bay gave them.
Hayes got the film he needed to prove he can make it at a higher level.
“Obviously I wanted to win. That was the goal,” he said, reflecting on his first professional year. “But at the end of the day, you have to make sure you got out of it what you wanted. You didn’t sacrifice everything for no reason.”
Blizzard Offensive/Defensive Line Coach Dean Picotte made note of Hayes’s potential.
“I am looking forward to seeing how Anthony develops in the off-season and how he takes what he learned this year for a big year next season,” Picotte said.
Looking forward, Hayes is hoping to have the opportunity to showcase his talents at the next level. “I’m going to give myself another year to make it to a higher league,” he said. “But if that doesn’t happen, I promised my daughter that I will pick another profession [so I can be there] and provide for the family.”
As far as what that will look like one day, Hayes said there are “several things I really want to do in life,” including coaching and building on family land.
Wherever life ends up taking him, Hayes will continue to make the most of every opportunity he’s given.