The best season in Cardinal Hayes football history ended with its largest group of players earning college scholarships.
The Cardinals, fresh off the program’s first ever appearance in the CHSFL Class AAA title game, had seven players from this year’ team sign National Letters of Intent at the school for National Signing Day on Jan. 3. Tight end Isiah Williams and defensive back Ashton Toliver also made it official with colleges after spending a year at prep schools.
“It’s really fun and real moving to see where we came from my freshman year where it was an average of one person signing a year to now we have seven people signing with Division I schools,” said Delaware-bound safety Timothy Poindexter.
The group was headed by running back Justin Covington, the Bronx Times All-Bronx Player of the Year heading to Villanova, a perennial Top 10 FCS program. He ran for 1,612 yards and 24 touchdowns.
The 17-years old senior never wavered from the Wildcats despite other like UMass, Fordham, UPenn, Army and Navy showing interest in his services after his early commitment. Villanova felt like home.
“I felt comfortable,” Poindexter said. “I know I will be successful there. The people around me were all great and encouraging.”
He was the face of the program along with the hard-hitting Poindexter, who ended a roller coaster recruiting process by signing with Delaware. He was one of the city’s best running backs his sophomore year before an injury as a junior and Covington’s emergence pushed him to safety.
It forced him to be recruited all over again. School’s slowly became believes after a big senior season for Poindexter. He picked Delaware over North Carolina A&T and Toledo.
“It’s a top FCS school,” Poindexter said. “I’ll be competing with the best players and the best teams in the AA. It was a long hard decision.”
The tight knit group is extremely proud of what it accomplished together, culminating with scholarships. Defensive back Zahir Williams is headed to Bryant, defensive end Juwan Devone will play at North Carolina Central, safety and receiver Dante Rodriguez signed with Mercyhurst and guard Freddy Pantaleon is headed to Assumption. Hayes coach C.J. O’Neil expects to have 15 kids committing to play college football at all different levels.
“Coming into freshman year we knew that we were a group that would be different because we came together as brothers,” Zahir Williams said. “We just wanted to finish out strong and leave a legacy ay Hayes.”
The group orchestrated a season for the history books in its second season in the AAA division. The Cardinals went 9-3, beat league power St. Anthony’s twice and fell just shy of a city title. Hayes fell 20-12 in the final to undefeated Archbishop Stepinac, the top-ranked team in the New York State.
“Every group had built on top [of each other]” O’Neil said. “This group did a great job of taking the program one more step.”
In the process it put behind it a disappointing 2014 season and overcome person tragedy when teammate Delano Cowan was found dead after the clubs quarterfinal victory. The group takes pride in a year that will be tough to top and doing so without the level of facilities other teams in the AAA enjoy.
“I feel like we set the bar really high,” Covington said. “Whoever comes behind us is ether going to have to continue to raise the bar or at least match what we did.”