Only 14, freshman Tiqwai Hayes shoulders leading role in Aliquippa’s playoff run

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Friday, December 3, 2021 | 3:24 AM


When he’s avoiding tacklers and scoring touchdowns at a place like Heinz Field, it’s easy to forget Tiqwai Hayes is only 14 years old.

The Aliquippa running back is just a freshman, yet he’s already making folks wonder whether he’ll become the next great football player from Aliquippa, a school that’s produced more than its share of stars. Right now, he’s a big reason why the Quips are playing Friday night in the PIAA semifinals.

Aliquippa plays District 4 champion Jersey Shore (14-0) at 7 p.m. in a Class 4A semifinal at Central Cambria.

Quips coach Mike Warfield has tried to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on Hayes, but doesn’t deny that the 5-foot-10, 170-pound back is a special talent.

“I’m not afraid to say it,” Warfield said Saturday after Hayes rushed for 151 yards in the WPIAL finals. “I wouldn’t say it if I thought it would go to his head. He wants to be great, and he’s the type of kid that’s going to continuously work no matter what the success is.”

Hayes has rushed for 1,527 yards this season.

As a comparison, former Hopewell star Rushel Shell had 1,516 yards his freshman season and graduated three years later as the state’s career rushing leader.

“He wants to be great and he wants to be successful. This is just the start,” Warfield said.

Hayes rushed 27 times for 151 yards and scored twice Saturday when Aliquippa defeated Belle Vernon, 28-13, in the WPIAL finals. A week earlier, Hayes shouldered an incredible 41 carries and 226 rushing yards to top McKeesport in two overtimes.

Still, Warfield has tried to keep expectations in check.

“We’re not going to put him at a Power 5 (college) yet. We’re not going to put him in the NFL yet,” Warfield said. “All we ask Tikey to do — and he’s been doing it — is to come to work tomorrow and try to get better. If he continuously comes to work the next day and put the work in everything is going to take care of itself.”

However, Penn State on Wednesday added some fuel to the hype by offering Hayes his first scholarship.

Hayes used Twitter to announce he’d received an offer from Nittany Lions coach James Franklin and assistant Terry Smith, who has Aliquippa roots himself.

He won’t graduate until 2025.

Hayes explained in the minutes after winning a WPIAL title how he didn’t expect to play such a leading role this season and recalled how grueling the preseason workouts were as a freshman. Surrounded by six teammates in the Heinz Field press conference room, Hayes was the first to speak.

“I wasn’t used to preparing for a season like that being a 14-year-old,” Hayes said. “I didn’t think I was going to get in a game for the first half of the season. They put trust in me.”

He and sophomore Jon Tracy have formed a backfield tandem that’s outperforming their ages. Tracy has 586 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 90 carries. Hayes has 190 carries and 18 touchdowns.

As a team, the Quips average 209 rushing yards per game.

“J.T. and Tikey, these are two star athletes who came through the Pop Warner ranks,” Warfield said. “They’re used to running 80 (yards) at will with no help. My thing was to … get these guys used to a 3-yard run or a 4-yard run. Sometimes a kid gets upset if he doesn’t break a long one, but they understood.”

Hayes had touchdown runs of 1 and 13 yards in the WPIAL finals.

Some coaches have traditionally brought only upperclassmen for the postgame press conference, but Warfield included his young stars. Hayes, Tracy and sophomore quarterback Quentin Goode all answered questions.

“I don’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on a 14-year-old,” Warfield said of Hayes. “But like I said, if I thought it would, I wouldn’t allow him to get as much contact with the media as I do. But I trust him because I see what he does at practice.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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