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Eastern Washington University Football

After surviving offseason shooting, Eastern Washington safety Dehonta Hayes plays like there’s no tomorrow

Eastern Washington University defensive back Dehonta Hayes  looks on  at Roos Field in Cheney on Sept. 17, 2019. Hayes has a visible scar from a gunshot to the neck that occurred in downtown Spokane in July, but he is able to focus on football again now that he has recovered. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

There’s a 9-millimeter bullet lodged inside Dehonta Hayes’ neck. It’s not coming out.

Doctors chose to not remove the small-caliber round, the Eastern Washington safety said, as a precaution.

Surgery could potentially compound the injury, the result of a July shooting in downtown Spokane that wounded Hayes and teammate Keith Moore.

The scar on Hayes’ neck has a story, but it’s also a daily reminder that’s spurred his recent approach to life and football: Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

He’s playing like it.

Hayes, whose 11th-ranked Eagles (1-2) travel to Idaho (1-2) on Saturday, has a team-high 15 solo tackles and21 overall.

The fifth-year senior is flying to the football, akin to 2018 when he ranked third on the team in tackles (87) despite being a backup for about half the season.

Fifteen pounds of added bulk give the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Tacoma product the look of an outside linebacker.

His leadership has beefed up, too.

“Ever since (the shooting), I knew that I needed to make the most of my life, and being that I love the game of football, I continue to strive to be the best and lead in ways I’ve never before,” Hayes said.

“I take every snap and rep like it’s my last. I don’t have a reason to not give my teammates everything I have to offer.”

EWU defensive coordinator Eti Ena agrees.

“To have him here, doing his thing like he’s doing it right now,” Ena said. “It makes me count my blessings and it makes me remember that there’s more to this whole thing than just football.”

Wrong place, wrong time

Like many college students and young adults in the area, Hayes and Moore chose to enjoy their evening last July at a series of bars near Main Avenue and Division Street.

After leaving the Globe, a popular nightclub, around 1:30 a.m., Moore – a 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle – told police he saw a man being jumped by three other men across the street. He intervened, breaking up the fight, and Hayes followed.

The scuffle ended, according to the police report, but Moore said he heard the men make statements to him he perceived as threatening. Though he had no prior interactions with the aggressors, he also believed they were armed.

He was right.

As Moore and Hayes walked away from the incident and toward their vehicle – both appeared to be good spirits as they headed to a nearby parking lot, according to a witness – a white SUV pulled up beside them.

“Hey you,” one of the men in the SUV said as another flashed what appeared to be a “Crips” gang sign, according to Moore.

A gun appeared from the passenger side of the vehicle, firing several rounds at the two EWU football players.

Moore tried to duck but was hit in the chest. Hayes, whose back was turned, was shot in the neck, a couple of inches below his left ear.

A witness told police she approached Moore, who emerged from an alley holding his chest, and helped apply pressure on the wound until medics arrived. The same witness also found Hayes lying down in a pool of blood in front of their car, which had bullet holes.

Both suffered serious injuries that weren’t life-threatening.

“I remember calling my uncle instantly and telling him what was going on,” said Hayes, who was released from the hospital a few hours after the shooting.

Moore was released from the hospital a day later.

Police later arrested two men connected to the shooting, charging Anthony Javonte Carell, 27, and Avery Keith Francis, 26, with first-degree attempted murder and drive-by shooting.

Carrell and Francis have violent criminal histories and had served previous prison sentences.

“My Lord and savior Jesus Christ was looking over Keith and I that night,” Hayes said. “I’ve had plenty of friends in my years at Eastern who have passed away due to gun violence, and thinking about how close I was to being one of those people is a bit scary.”

Ena, who relies on Hayes to lead the backside of the Eagles’ defense, has also grieved because of gun violence.

“I’ve had it go the other way with friends and players in the past where they didn’t live through a situation like that,” Ena said. “That’s a traumatizing experience for someone to go through.”

Moving forward

Three weeks after sustaining a gunshot wound that nearly killed him, Hayes was healthy for EWU’s first practice of the season in August.

One of the more engaging and affable personalities on EWU’s roster, Hayes didn’t look or act like someone who’d recently experienced trauma.

“I wasn’t shocked by that,” Ena said. “He’s driven, motivated and wants to be with his brothers.

“He brings a lot of energy and backs up everything he says with the way he plays.”

Hayes is a motivated student, too, carrying a 3.8 grade-point average into the school year after receiving his communications degree last spring.

The Easterner – EWU’s student-run newspaper – named Hayes the 2018-2019 Student-Athlete of the Year.

Moore’s road to recovery has been slower. The Bremerton native was a first-string nose tackle on EWU’s preseason depth chart before the shooting. He has missed the Eagles’ first three games to recover from the injury, but he’s been in pads the past two weeks and could return for EWU’s slate of Big Sky Conference games.

Like Hayes, Moore was recently recognized for his work off the field, earning EWU’s Soaring Eagle Student Award in April.

Given a second chance at life, Hayes said, he’s ready to show the Big Sky he’s one of the conference’s premier defensive backs.

“This game has pushed me my whole life to be great, and for some time during my collegiate career I took it for granted and I completely regret that,” Hayes said. “Which is why I am starting this season off by making a huge statement.

“I feel like I float under the radar as a safety in this league. But I am using this season to make sure that everyone knows who I am and the impact I make when I’m on the field.”