Eagles take flight with Hales under center|[10/25/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 25, 2006

When it comes to scrambling quarterbacks, Hayden Hales’ name isn’t the first one that pops into your head.

Tall and muscular, the 6-foot-5 Porters Chapel senior looks like your prototypical pocket passer. He can do that, too. But put some pressure on him, and the fun really begins.

Hales has rushed for 481 yards and six touchdowns this season, the second-highest total on the team and fourth among all Warren County rushers.

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&#8220We tried to get him to do it last year. He started figuring it out, his ability to run the ball, about the third or fourth game this season,” PCA coach Randy Wright said. &#8220He’s taken it upon himself to do it, and it’s been nice.”

Hales trails tailback Moose Carney by 16 yards for the team lead. If Hales can overtake Carney, he’ll become the first Warren County quarterback to lead his team in rushing since PCA’s Mark Buys did it in 1973.

Buys ran for 285 yards that season, including 122 in a start at tailback. Other than a few gimmick plays, Hales has taken all of his offensive snaps from under center this year.

&#8220If I do it, it’d be great. But I’d really like to see the running backs do well,” Hales said.

Hales’ running style is more bruising fullback than shifty tailback. He has some speed and can outrun defenders, but instead likes to lower his shoulder and bulldoze them for a few extra yards.

Hales explained that most of his running isn’t planned. Once he breaks the pocket, he just acts like a running back and tries to take what he can get.

&#8220I’ll drop back and get people coming at me and just scramble. There’s not much to it. Coach Wright told me when I run to try and get 10 yards. It’s worked,” Hales said. &#8220It’s just instinct. When you drop back and feel the pressure, you see the hole and take it.”

Hales didn’t need to run much as PCA’s starting quarterback last season. With 1,500-yard rusher Chris Mixon at tailback, and a schedule full of weak teams, Hales was able to hand off or pick apart defenses at his leisure. He ran for only 33 yards last season.

This year, with Mixon gone and a tougher slate of teams on the schedule, Wright put a few designed runs in the playbook for his quarterback. It took Hales a few weeks to get going – he only had about 100 yards in PCA’s first four games. Then, in week five he ran for 102 yards and two scores against Indianola and took off from there. In the last five games, he has rushed for nearly 400 yards.

&#8220I think I’ve definitely gotten better at running the ball this year,” Hales said. &#8220We had Mixon at running back last year, and half the time when I dropped back there was nobody near me.”

The emergence of Hales’ legs as a weapon has also helped turn his arm into a more potent one.

He’s thrown for 1,440 yards and 14 touchdowns in nine games this season after throwing for 726 yards and 12 TDs last year. The switch to a more pass-oriented offensive set has contributed to the increase, but so has the threat of him running the ball.

Knowing Hales can break the pocket and pick up a first down forces defenses to keep tabs on him and opens things up for his receivers. Both Cole Smith and Michael Busby have caught more than 20 passes.

&#8220The linebackers stay more in their areas. It’s not 100 percent pass when he’s back there,” said Busby, who has 28 receptions for 479 yards and four TDs this season.

And when Hales’ passing has faltered, he’s still been able to contribute in the running game. After completing 6 of 10 passes in the first half of a 30-28 win over Glenbrook, Hales went 0-for-6 in the second half and 3-for-12 in the first half the following week against Riverfield. During the same span, he rushed for 49 yards on nine carries, not including a pair of kneeldowns at the end of the Glenbrook game.

&#8220He’s been a weapon for us, no question,” Wright said. &#8220He’s so big, strong and physical. He’s been a big-time weapon for our team.”