Posted: Tuesday, June 19th 2012 at 11:30am
NFL referee Hayes wraps QBR camp at Riverside
By Morgan Lee Editor
New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham (82) makes a catch at the sideline in front of referee Laird Hayes as New England Patriots free safety Patrick Chung defends during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl XLVI football game on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis. / photo: Associated Press
GAINESVILLE -- Laird Hayes has seen exactly what it takes to win at the highest levels of football.
In February, Hayes not only had a front-row seat, he took part in perhaps the defining play of Super Bowl XLVI, as the NFL referee monitored -- and correctly called -- Eli Manning’s pinpoint 38-yard completion to New York Giants receiver Mario Manningham late in the fourth quarter. (Watch the play here.) The Giants, who trailed New England 17-15 at the time, used the play as a spark to win the game.
The football hasn’t since slowed for Hayes, however. And over the past four days, the longtime referee and former coach has taught what he knows about the game to area hopefuls, after bringing the QBR QB and Receiver Camp to Gainesville’s Riverside Military Academy.
“My dad (Will Hayes) started the camp in 1965 in Santa Barbara, Calif., and kept it going, and it just started to expand,” said Hayes, who now hosts QBR in five different states: California, Ohio, New Jersey and Arkansas. “We hold the camps regionally so that people from all over the country can attend without all having to come to California.”
And come they do, as this week showed, when 50 youths attended the camp -- high school and middle school-aged players traveling from as far away as Texas, Florida, Alabama and Arkansas to attend the session in its first run in Gainesville (though most campers were from in-state).
“Riverside fits the bill perfectly,” said Hayes, who originally hosted the southeast region camp in Macon before moving it to Tampa, Fla. “The rain every afternoon kind of got in the way, so we decided to move again, and RIverside is great because it’s got plenty of great grass fields, dorms, a dining hall, and it’s centrally located -- we’re close to Atlanta.”
With the style of instruction that QBR brings, a little bit of rain can make a big difference, as campers and coaches make use of every single second available in the day.
“We employ a condensed program where kids are getting literally thousands of reps, all under the watchful eye of coaches,” Hayes said. “We have a small ratio of one coach to 10 kids.
“And we get coaches from the region, mostly high school coaches, every once in a while a college coach, to come in and work with the kids. We’ve got (Prince Avenue Christian’s) Mark Farriba -- he’s been with us forever -- and the Niblett brothers (Josh and Tad) from Hoover High (Ala.). High school coaches really do a great job teaching the game, the little things, and that’s what this camp is about.”
Indeed, QBR’s main focus is on fundamentals.
“We’re just trying to make everyone better,” said Hayes, whose QBR is open to all skill levels. “There’s no magic; it’s just about hard work and getting better.”
Hayes also hopes that his camp can prepare those hoping to play at the next level for some of the stresses they will face at other camps later in their varsity careers.
“Right now we’re getting a lot of younger kids -- seventh, eighth and ninth graders -- because the older kids are starting to go to these showcase camps where they’re looking to get scholarship offers,” said Hayes. “But if you’re not ready for those camps you’re setting yourself up to not get another look. What we want to do is prepare campers for the whole deal of being a QB, as well as a receiver and a running back.”
“Back then it (QBR) was the first of its kind, and it just filled a need,” Hayes said. “The landscape has completely changed. But teaching the game and the basics are still as important as ever.”
As is hard work -- another tenet of QBR -- and a must for any aspiring standout.
“The tip of the pyramid I’ve seen at the NFL level is so small, that -- even though you’ve got to have talent -- you’ve also got to be ready to work. Nobody works harder than those guys at the top,” said Hayes, whose career path to last year’s correct call in the Super Bowl (which held up under a challenge from New England coach Bill Belichick), began with high school baseball umpiring.
“I began calling high school baseball games when I was getting my graduate degrees at UCLA; then I got a job at a community college and started refereeing college football from there,” said Hayes, who holds a doctorate degree. “I did pretty well and knew some well-established officials who saw I was ambitious. They told me to keep applying for higher positions, so I went from junior college to small college to PAC 10 games. Eventually I applied for the NFL and got accepted there.
“It’s been a great run, and I’ve had a blessed career.”
Indeed, Hayes has officiated in three Super Bowls, including this year’s down-to-the-wire battle that featured Manningham’s tightrope, over-the-shoulder catch right in front of Hayes.
“That was the zenith of my career,” Hayes said. “I saw the whole play in slow motion in front of me, and there was no doubt he was inbounds.”
As for the future, Hayes is confident the NFL and NFL Referees Association will reach an agreement to end the current lockout imposed on referees by the league.
He’s also certain that Riverside is the best home yet for QBR in the southeast.
“We’ve already got next year’s camp set for June 14-16,” Hayes said. “We’re very much looking forward to being back in Gainesville.”
Link: Learn more about the QBR camps here
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